The Nashville Predators needed a win in Game 3 of the series against the Chicago Blackhawks to regain home ice advantage and they would have to do it without both Shea Weber and Mike Fisher. Unable to do so, the Predators lost 4-2 and are now down 2-1 in the series. Scott Darling was given the start after Corey Crawford gave up six goals in Game 2.
While Nashville has largely controlled the play in the games at Bridgestone Arena, they failed to do so in the United Center. They were outshot 14-11 in the first period and for the first time in the series it was Chicago that opened the scoring. Andrew Desjardins came off the bench as the Predators were in the middle of a change and with a clear lane to the net, his initial shot was blocked by Roman Josi but the puck came directly back to him and he wristed a shot past Pekka RInne at 14:48 in the first period.

The Predators quickly answered and only 31 seconds after the Blackhawks scored, Scott Darling let in his first goal of the series as the Predators finally found a way to solve him after his 42 save performance in relief in Game 1. Craig Smith stole the puck from Niklas Hjalmarsson and made a quick pass to Mike Ribiero in the slot who got a slapshot off quickly to tie the game. The Predators drew a hooking penalty on Marian Hossa to end the period on the power play but were unable to convert and the game remained tied at the end of the first.

The Blackhawks came out to a quick start in the second period when a turnover at the Chicago blue line with the Predators caught deep led to a rush and Jonathan Toews scored on a wrist shot at 0:36 in the second period. Once again the Predators did not let Chicago keep the lead for long and 22 seconds later, Ryan Ellis made a pass to Ekholm who beat Darling with a long slapshot from the point.

The Predators followed their goal with a few scoring chances but were unable to take the lead as Darling made several key saves. Nashville seemed to be in control but when Seth Jones skated deep into the Chicago zone, Colin Wilson was stripped of the puck at the blue line, and Brandon Saad had a breakaway to send a snap shot past Rinne for the Blackhawks to take the lead once again at 3:38 in the second. Darling would make the next few stops to prevent the Predators from repeating the pattern of the first two goals. Nashville came close when Gabriel Bourque took a shot off the post, but Chicago escaped to keep the lead.

At 12:41 in Period 2, the Blackhawks extended the lead to two after an extended possession left the Predators disorganized in their defensive zone. Toews sent the puck to Brent Seabrook who was open at the point to take the shot.

Firmly in control of the game to start Period 3, Chicago’s defense prevented Nashville from getting many scoring opportunities to try to tie it up. Darling made nine saves in the third period for a total of 35 saves. Frustrations from the Predators bench were evident as Mike Ribiero got away with a punch to Andrew Shaw on the Chicago bench as Shaw was holding his arm.

With Weber and Fisher out with injury, the Predators will rely more on Rinne to win games. However in five of his last seven starts, he has allowed four or more goals. While he has had stretches of strong play, Chicago has been able to exploit and capitalize on the team’s mistakes. Nashville outshot Chicago 17-10 in the second period, but were outscored 3-1. If not for a quick whistle in the third period when the referee thought Rinne had covered the puck, the Predators would have been facing a three goal deficit after the puck trickled in. The team has been able to rely on Rinne to bail out their defense on mistakes all season and will need him to recapture his earlier season form.

The Predators will also need to find ways to better shut down the offensive talent spread among the Blackhawks’ lines. In the past two games, the Predators have been able to limit either Toews and Hossa or Patrick Kane, but not both. In Game 3 Toews and Hossa both had a two point game, the second multiple point game of the series for both, and Hossa had a team leading six shots on goal.
Game 4 will take place on Tuesday, April 21 when the Predators will look to tie back up the series.