Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi looks up during the third period of Game 1 of their NHL Western Conference quarterfinal hockey game against the Nashville Predators in Chicago, Friday, April 16, 2010. The Predators won 4-1.(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Nashville Predators are back home and more than a little upset with themselves having split the first two games against Chicago, in their minds, they should be up 2-0.
"We missed an opportunity ... to potentially really get a stranglehold on this series, and we let them off the hook a little bit," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Monday.
The Predators opened with a 4-1 win on Friday night only to see the Blackhawks win 2-0 Sunday night, handing Nashville its fourth shutout in the post-season and first ever on the road. Game 3 is Tuesday night and the Predators still have the chance to win their first playoff series on their own ice if they learned a very important lesson.
"You can't turn it on and turn it off," Nashville defenceman Ryan Suter said of the Predators' intensity and focus. "That was our mistake. We thought we could turn it on and turn it off. It backfired on us. Now we have to play desperate if we stand to have a chance here."
The Predators weren't helped by the absence of their top goal scorer either.
Patric Hornqvist, originally hurt April 7 when hit by teammate Shea Weber's slapshot, played only 13 minutes in the first game in what was called a malfunction with his skate. But he was scratched before the second game, and Nashville couldn't replace the Swede, who tied for the team-lead with 51 points by camping in front of the crease and drawing penalties.
Suter, who tied with a game-high six shots Sunday night, said they got traffic to the net.
"It might've been a second late or maybe a second early. With him being out, you have to find someone to step in and do that, and it's not something that can happen overnight," Suter said of Hornqvist. "Whoever does step in has to be used to being in there."
Hornqvist only watched Monday's optional skate, and both he and Trotz called him day-to-day.
"It's frustrating," Hornqvist said. "Everybody wants to play in this locker-room. ... That's life. Sometimes you get hurt."
Whether Hornqvist is available or not, Trotz wants his Predators fixing the mistakes that cost them so dearly Sunday night. Not only did Nashville not score, the Predators also gave Chicago the man advantage five times.
The Blackhawks have scored only two even-strength goals against goaltender Pekka Rinne through two games. But Dave Bolland's power-play goal put Chicago up 1-0 on Sunday night, a rare score for a unit that went 6-for-61 over the final 18 games of the regular season with the man advantage.
Returning to the Bridgestone Arena could help Nashville. The Predators had a league-low 113 penalty kills on their home ice, and Trotz's message to his team is return to what they do best with plenty of emotion.
"The No. 1 thing we've got to want it more than them," Trotz said.
The Blackhawks showed they can slow down their high-flying offence for some hard-hitting. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is keeping his top defencemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook together after re-teaming them for the second game. The coach likes the quality and quantity he gets from the pairing.
"It helps with matchups defensively and you get a little offence when they are together as well," he said.
Quenneville also isn't planning on Hornqvist missing a second straight game.
"He's one of those guys who can add to your offence. We'll have to make him an awareness if he does get back in the lineup. He's one of those guys who works hard and is a pretty complete player. So we'll be aware when he gets back in," Quenneville said.
The Blackhawks went 0-3 on the road in losing the Western Conference finals to Detroit last season but clinched their opening series at Calgary. They also went 2-1 on the road in beating Vancouver in the semifinals, and left wing Andrew Ladd said that proved they know how to win away from home in the post-season.
"As a group we seem to simplify even more on the road, which I think will help us going down the road," Ladd said.
Nashville is hoping to tap into a sold-out crowd's enthusiasm in these games Tuesday and Thursday before heading back to Chicago for Game 5 on Saturday. But approximately 2,000 tickets remained available for Game 3.
"If we get this building full, it will definitely help us," Suter said.