Game Time: 7:00PM
TV/Radio: NBC, SportsNet (Anglo), TVA2 (Franco), WGN-AM 720
Country Music Awards: On The Forecheck
Tonight’s game 6 at home is slightly uncharted territory for the Hawks. Only once previous under Joel Quenneville had the Hawks not ended a series in a non-game 7 situation when they had the opportunity to, and that was at home for Game 5 against the Canucks in 2010. So now they get a second opportunity to end the Predators’ season, and it’s one they had better emphatically capitalize on.
On Thursday night, the Preds didn’t change much of their approach to the Hawks despite looking down the barrel of elimination. Having Mike Fisher back certainly helped, but Peter Laviolette is not one to ever take his foot off the gas, and the Predators continued to send two forecheckers deep towards Hawk defensemen, forcing them to make decisions quicker than they would like to. That specifically resulted in the go-ahead goal and the penalty that led to the insurance marker, both on the ledger of Michal Rozsival. Colin Wilson continues to be a terror, and Filip Forsberg appears to be finding his rhythm in the series with now four goals in his last two games, including a hat trick on Thursday. Having Fisher back in the lineup certainly does help things, particularly at home, where he was able to keep the Toews line off the scoreboard. It will be a more difficult charge today without the benefit of last change.
Of bigger concern is what is taking place on the back end, where every additional game played is another step in the expedited development of Seth Jones. With Shea Weber out for the remainder of this series at the very least, Jones will once again assume the mantle of the top assignments with Roman Josi. After a rough first outing together last Sunday, the two seem to be finding a groove together, which is bad news for the Hawks, despite the fact that both were significantly underwater at -9 and -10 CF on Thursday. They are absorbing the most difficult minutes and allowing the likes of Ryan Ells and Victor Bartley (+14 and +10) to run rampant all over the Hawks. But again, those minutes are easier to cherry pick at home.
It is also a problem that Pekka Rinne is looking more solid than he did in the early goings of the series. While Brad Richards’ goal had eyes, he stopped everything else he could see on Thursday aside from a Patrick Kane black magic pass, and even then he nearly got over in time to stop Kris Versteeg from potting an ultimately meaningless goal. He’s brought his save percentage up to a far more respectable .915 through five games, and he cannot be allowed to get more comfortable than he already is, as he’s a finalist for this year’s Vezina Trophy for a reason.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, the collars should be tightening just a bit. While the first forty minues in Nashville were anything you could ask for in a road playoff game, the wheels fell off the wagon in a hurry, specifically a span of about 3 minutes to start off the third period. This is not the type of collapse this team has been known for over the last 7 years, particularly in elimination scenarios where they have generally risen to the level of play necessary. The questions keep coming back to the man behind the bench, and there have yet to be any sufficient answers. Why is Michal Rozsival playing anything other than spot duty on the third pair? How does Kris Versteeg continue to fail upward? Why wasn’t a timeout taken after the Predators’ third goal? Why is a two-time Jennings Trophy and Stanley Cup winning goalie given less rope than a 27 year old journeyman?
With regard to the last question, an argument could be made that Scott Darling did nothing to blow his chance in the Hawk crease with his performance on Friday. But the prevailing sentiment around the team is that they are going to need Corey Crawford again at some point, and this would have been a good opportunity to get him back into the lineup, with the ability to close out a series at home against a team with the worst road record among playoff participants. Further exacerbating things is the trick bag Quenneville will find himself in if the Hawks cannot close things out tonight; going back on the road for a game seven with two goalies with no confidence whatsoever. Which is exactly why it is an absolute must for this series to come to an end tonight.
The Hawks will be able to get Toews away from Jones and Fisher if Quenneville so chooses, but he may want to use them to get more favorable matchups for his other lines. The key will be not allowing the Predators’ third pairing to push the pace against the lower lines, and forcing them to start more times in the defensive zone than Peter Laviolette would like. Getting out of the game unscathed on the penalty kill would also go a long way, and the first step to doing that is not taking stupid, unnecessary penalties. It would be nice if Quenneville reunited the one true top-four defensive configuration in a game that the Hawks now, finally, absolutely have to have, but that might be asking a little too much, as Michal Rozsival is so vital to what the Hawks do he needs to be on the ice in the dying minutes while trailing in an elimination game.
The fact remains that with Shea Weber out of the lineup for the Predators, the Hawks have zero excuses. End this. Let’s go Hawks.