Hawks chase Predators, can't catch up in 3-2 loss

Hawks chase Predators, can't catch up in 3-2 loss
March 14, 2014, 9:15 pm
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The shots were more plentiful, a last-ditch attempt to make amends for the lack of fire, urgency and goals they needed earlier in the game.

Try as they might, the Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t overcome a decent-to-dismal first period. And with just 15 regular-season games remaining, they’re making it harder on themselves to catch their Western Conference foes.

Jonathan Toews scored his 26th goal of the season but the Blackhawks’ late-regulation fire was too little, too late in a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday night. The Blackhawks, who have lost two in a row, remain in fifth place in the Western Conference, seven points behind first-place St. Louis.

[WATCH: Too little, too late]

Roman Josi had three assists, while Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Ellis scored for the Predators, who have now won three in a row. Peter Regin also scored for the Blackhawks.

It was another frustrating outing, and one that had coach Joel Quenneville terribly disappointed in the effort.

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“The first five to 10 minutes wasn’t bad but it was tough to watch the last part of the first period. I thought that was as bad as we’ve played for any stretch all year,” Quenneville said. “We got that one (goal) at the end of the period that gave us a little hope. We were better in the second period; the last 10 minutes were fine. But I’m not happy with our game at all.

“Our pace to our game, our intelligence to our game were non-existent the last couple of games,” Quenneville said.

It’s understandable criticism; the Blackhawks looked listless through most of this one, showing little to no urgency. The Predators outhustled them, won the battles and just outplayed the Blackhawks in many facets.

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While the Blackhawks were sleepwalking through most of the first, the Predators were building their lead. They were up 2-0 when Toews’ goal, the one Quenneville said gave the Blackhawks “a little hope,” cut it to 2-1 with 14 seconds remaining in the first.

Ellis’ goal came as he burst out of the penalty box. Josi’s pass found him, and he beat Corey Crawford for a 3-1 advantage. Regin redirected a Johnny Oduya shot to cut the Predators lead to 3-2 with about 11 ½ minutes remaining in regulation. The Blackhawks found their urgency then and also tried to find the equalizer. They didn’t, however, despite outshooting the Predators 12-7 in the final frame and getting some close opportunities.

[XFINITY High Flying Hawk vs. Predators: Kris Versteeg]

“It’s just another case of us finally playing the way we can, the way we’re supposed to, but too late again,” Toews said. “You get down two goals to that team, it’s not easy to come back. We’re putting ourselves in tough situations by not starting well and not playing our team game. That’s not much of an explanation but we know we need better right now. We need to get out of the trend we’re in right now.”

The Blackhawks have an eight-point lead on the sixth-place Los Angeles Kings in the West. But this isn’t about dropping down in the standings; it’s about the Blackhawks’ inability to move up in them. They’re not playing smart, not getting early leads, not getting the critical points. They’ve gotten their share of wake-up calls lately; they need to rouse themselves faster.

“Nashville’s a good team. You can’t take them lightly. It kind of looked like in the first period maybe a bit of that was the problem,” Kris Versteeg said. “When we wanted to play, we obviously took the game over. I know it’s cliché and guys keep saying it, but we have to find a way to play a full 60 and get the two points. Urgency is there, but usually a little late at times lately.”