Predators are making us question everything
CHICAGO – Energy, sharpness, physicality in front of the net and a quick goal. We expected to see all these things Saturday night at United Center, and we did.
We just figured they’d come from the guys in red.
But it did not take long in Game 2, and it has not taken long in this series, to see the Nashville Predators for what they are. A very talented group of players granted an opportunity to prove themselves against the NHL’s best, responding with the kind of focused fury that gives them a chance to do it.
The Predators’ 5-0 rout of the Chicago Blackhawks in front of 22,175 stunned spectators, and a whole bunch more on an NBC national telecast, does not win them a series. Will not deter the Blackhawks. Cannot be celebrated as anything but incremental progress.
But these guys look awfully good right now, don’t they?
None better than goaltender Pekka Rinne, who made Chicago his own over the weekend, becoming the first goaltender since Philadelphia’s Michael Leighton in 2010 to record consecutive playoff shutouts.
It’s enough to make you question the point of an NHL regular season, and of reports that Rinne is 34 years old, and of making predictions, and of declaring that the Predators’ stretch run should have been devoted to avoiding this match up (ahem).
It’ll have a lot of people questioning the Western Conference No. 1 seed, Stanley Cup favorite Blackhawks. They must respond in Monday’s Game 3 in a Bridgestone Arena environment that is already making these ears quiver with fear, or they will be in serious danger of a second straight first-round upset loss.
And it should inspire all of us to practice spelling Zolnierczyk. That’s Predators forward Harry Zolnierczyk, referred to recently by an uninformed media member as Henry Zolnierczyk (ahem), and one of four Predators to score their first playoff goal Saturday.
His made it 2-0 in the second period, after Ryan Ellis started things with an early rocket and just before Colton Sissons opened things up for a 3-0 lead. Kevin Fiala was the other newbie, joining Ryan Johansen with third-period scores that sent the hushed crowd for the exits early.
We must also learn to pronounce Zolnierczyk correctly (it’s zoal-nerCHUCK), and NBC’s Doc Emrick – perhaps the best play-by-play announcer in sports – made sure to doublecheck that with Predators radio voice Pete Weber during the game.
Emrick probably didn’t think he’d be calling a Predators rout. But that made things nice and easy for NBC as it moved toward an episode of Saturday Night Live. And Emrick introduced viewers to some players who are proving ready for prime time.
Rinne has been one for a while, of course, but this start for him is astounding. The Blackhawks hit a couple of posts in the first two periods, but Rinne and his defense deserve credit for another masterful performance.
The Blackhawks talked a lot between games about getting traffic in front of the net and making things uncomfortable for him. But he is seeing and stopping everything, 59 saves on 59 shots in two games.
I mean, the guy had two assists Saturday night. What more can he do?
Actually, here’s one thing: Remind his team that Nashville won the first two games at Anaheim last season before losing three straight.
The Predators ended up winning in seven. But the point is, this is hockey and momentum changes faster than two teams can make a bunch of experts look like they’ve never watched the game before (ahem).
Contact Joe Rexrode at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.