Hawks stars Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith celebrate after Seabrook scored in triple-overtime to win Game 4 of Chicago's first-round series against the Nashville Predators. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Playing without captain Shea Weber for the second straight game, the Predators gave the Blackhawks everything they could in Game 4 of their first-round series. But once again, the best Nashville could do wasn't good enough to win – and although the Preds took the Hawks to triple-overtime before losing 3-2, their odds of staging a series comeback appear remote.
After falling behind 2 games to 1 in their first round series with the Blackhawks and facing the prospect of having to win three games in a row to stave off elimination, the Nashville Predators had to be treating Game 4 Tuesday as a must-win scenario. Playing for the second straight game without star defenseman and captain Shea Weber, the Preds displayed the urgency the moment demanded and had a 2-1 lead midway through the third period. The Hawks were their typically resilient selves and tied it on Brandon Saad's second of the post-season with 8:57 left in regulation – and that's when the Great Overtime Caper of 2015 began.
By the end of it – on the 100th shot of the game at at exactly one minute of the third OT period – the Hawks were victorious again (this time, via a 3-2 final score) thanks to Brent Seabrook's game-winner, and the Preds were on the brink of another first-round exit:
It didn't matter to Nashville's players, management or their fans that Game 4 at the United Center was the longest game of the series thus far and the longest game in the history of the Predators franchise. The only thing that mattered was the series was now at 3-1 in Chicago's favor. Once again, the best the Preds had to offer wasn't enough to defeat a stacked Hawks squad that just kept coming no matter what Nashville threw at them.
The Predators outshot Chicago 27-18 through the first two periods, and 52-48 on the night, but that wasn't enough to win. Nashville forced the Hawks into 18 turnovers and committed only 10 of their own, but that couldn't tip the scales in their favor. Preds star goalie Pekka Rinne had an outstanding night (including a .938 save percentage), but Hawks counterpart Scott Darling had an even better showing (.962 SP). And although Preds coach Peter Laviolette had to be heartened to see his team get goals from James Neal (his first of the playoffs) and Colin Wilson (his fourth of the post-season, it had to be just as disheartening knowing the Blackhawks won despite not getting a single goal from stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa or Patrick Sharp. Antoine Vermette – a healthy scratch in the first two games of the series – scored Chicago's first goal; the 22-year-old Saad had the game-tying marker; and the veteran Seabrook scored his second of this post-season to give the Hawks a sweep of their first two home games.
Game 5 is set for Thursday back in Nashville, and maybe the Predators will scrape up enough to outlast the Blackhawks for that game. But be honest – who believes Chicago is going to lose three in a row? The last time that happened was back in February – and that came during a three-games-in-five-nights stretch of the campaign. The way Darling is playing, the way different Chicago players are being difference-makers at different points in the series, and the absence of Weber spell almost certain doom for the Predators. Yes, stranger things have happened in the playoffs than a Predators comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, but unfortunately for GM David Poile and Preds fans, the odds of something that strange happening are extremely remote.
Nashville's stellar regular season may have raised expectations too high for their odds of succeeding against true Stanley Cup threats like the Blackhawks. The Preds simply don't have the embarrassment of riches at forward that their current opponents enjoy, and with every minute that passes – be it a regulation-time minute, or an agonizingly slow overtime minute – it becomes clearer the Hawks' depth is going to be what propels Chicago to the second round.