Swept away: Predators eliminate Blackhawks from Stanley Cup playoffs

Swept away: Predators eliminate Blackhawks from Stanley Cup playoffs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Four and out. On the losing end of a postseason sweep for the first time in more than 20 years. On Thursday the Blackhawks’ postseason, which began with so much promise after a 109-point regular season, ended with a thud.

Roman Josi scored twice and Pekka Rinne stopped 30 of 31 shots as the Nashville Predators beat the Blackhawks 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena. The Blackhawks were swept for the first time since the 1993 division semifinals.

“It was a major disappointment across the board,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I don’t think any of the four games – there was a stretch in the second period where we might have been competing to the level that we needed in the playoffs. We had some stretches in maybe Game 1 and maybe in segments in all four games. Not good enough. I don’t think anybody exceeded their expectations. We don’t compete to the level that’s necessary. I take that personally, as a coach, that we didn’t find the all-out button, didn’t get the job done.”

In the Blackhawks’ locker room there were a myriad of feelings, all in the same range: shock, bewilderment, disappointment and frustration.

“Yeah, I think we probably all thought it was going to go a different way, especially with the regular season you have,” said Patrick Kane. “Coming into the playoffs, I think we felt pretty confident. So yeah, I mean, disappointing, shocked. I don’t know. Yeah. It’s going to be a long summer, for sure.”

Quenneville said it was on him to make sure the Blackhawks were ready for this series – “whatever buttons you have to push, to find a way to make it work, whether it’s lines or excitement,” he said on what he didn’t do. But ultimately it’s the Blackhawks players who didn’t come through. They couldn’t solve the Predators, who were strong from the start. They couldn’t stop the Predators in their end and they couldn’t score at the other. In four games the Blackhawks scored just three goals, and two of them were on the power play.

“A feeling of emptiness. We can’t lose like this,” Artemi Panarin, who went goal-less in the series, said through interpreter Igor Alfimov. “[The Predators] kept it simple. We couldn’t control the puck well. Their defensemen were able to get the puck, get it into the offense. We weren’t able to control.”

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Down 1-0 the Blackhawks made a push in the third period. But about nine minutes into the third the Predators started a push the other way, with Colton Sissons ringing one off the crossbar. The puck got caught under Corey Crawford and when he pushed back, the puck went in behind him to give the Predators’ a 2-0 lead. Josi, who put the Predators up 1-0 midway through the second period, would add his second of the night about 90 seconds later.

“Yeah, it’s tough every time you lose a game in a series like this. It’s tough to mentally battle back and find that confidence and get ready for the next one,” said Jonathan Toews, whose third-period goal was his first postseason tally since the 2015 Stanley Cup final. “I think every game they seemed to get better and better and just thrive off what happened the last game. Every single time we couldn’t start the game the right way. We’d get behind, start forcing offense and then it seems like every defensive breakdown or turnover we had they would come back our way. Odd-man rushes were going in against again. Just an uphill battle every which way.”

Once again the Blackhawks talked about being ready at puck drop. Once again, they weren’t. From the start the Predators looked like they wanted no part of a return trip to Chicago. They swarmed the Blackhawks once again and were looking from the early lead at every opportunity.

Toews scored with a little more than five minutes remaining in regulation but it was too little, too late. Viktor Arvidsson scored an empty-net goal with 1:48 remaining in the game.

The Blackhawks were a heavy favorite to come out of the West this postseason. They couldn’t even get out of the first round. The Predators outplayed them throughout and now the Blackhawks will have a long offseason for the second consecutive season.

“We always talk about not expecting to just turn on the switch when we get to the playoffs. Obviously we didn’t like the way we were playing going into the playoffs and maybe not necessarily the last three games even though we lost a couple on the road, I think the switch just didn’t turn on,” Toews said. “I’m not going to sit here and try and come up with those reasons right now. We’ll have some thinking to do in the next few days and we’ve got a lot of time before next season.”

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

The Blackhawks strengthened their organizational depth Thursday, announcing the signing of forward Nathan Noel to a three-year entry-level contract that kicks in next season and runs through the 2019-20 campaign. 

Noel, a fourth-round draft pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016, tied a career high with 24 goals — including six game winners — and added 26 assists for 50 points in 52 games during his fourth regular season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was sidelined for a little more than a month in December and January due to an upper-body injury.

The 19-year-old center has raised his game in the postseason, racking up eight goals and 18 assists in 33 games from 2015-17, including six assists in 12 contests so far during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs. Across four years at Saint John, he amassed 208 points (85 goals, 123 assists) in 242 career regular-season games.

Noel is teammates with forward Matthew Highmore, who leads the Sea Dogs in scoring and was signed by the Blackhawks in March to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent.

Noel is an undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he's a fast skater with offensive upside. He'll likely start the 2017-18 season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, who desperately needed scoring last year. 

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Nick Schmaltz will be joining Blackhawks teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk on Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, the club announced Thursday.

It will be his first career appearance on the U.S. men's national team and third time representing his country in world-championship play, most recently winning a bronze medal at the 2016 World Juniors. He scored two goals and added six assists in seven games during that tournament.

Schmaltz just completed his first professional season with the Blackhawks, where he tallied six goals and 22 assists in 61 games. 

After the year ended, he spoke about the possibility of playing for USA in this tournament and what it would mean to him.

"I think it's a great tournament," Schmaltz said. "You get to play with a lot of great players. Look like a lot of great players are going to the tournament, so it's definitely a big stage. It would be a fun tournament."

The roster now includes 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. Among the other NHLers going for the Americans: Danny DeKeyser, Noah Hanifin, Jimmy Howard, Dylan Larkin, Anders Lee, Charlie McAvoy, Connor Murphy, Brock Nelson and Jacob Trouba.

Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger (Sweden) and Artemi Panarin (Russia) will also compete in the tournament, which begins May 5 and runs until May 21 in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.