• Elite Hockey Experience
 

Not Good Enough: Preds Smash Hawks

2019-05-31

"Not good enough, simple as that. We weren't good enough to win."

Those words seemed to echo off the walls of the opposing team's locker room after Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said them, fresh off of a tough, series-ending 5-4 loss to the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of their Gretzky Conference Quarterfinal matchup.

The Hawks have now been eliminated from the first round of the EHE Playoffs in back to back seasons. In those 13 contests, Chicago is 5-8.

"We're done with bringing the franchise back," said alternate captain Jordan Staal. "That was the sentiment last year, that we'd helped to bring the team back to prominence. This year we obviously had higher expectations, and we just didn't get the job done. We have no one to blame but ourselves."

The Blackhawks lost the first three games of this series but seemed to get their stride back after a 4-2 victory on home ice in Game 4. Despite holding a 2-1 lead after the first period of Game 5, Chicago was just unable to contain the feisty and hungry Predators, who scored three times in a 6:06 span in the second frame en route to a 5-3 lead after forty minutes.

Curtis McElhinney, who emerged as the hero in Game 4 with 21 saves in the game's final 30 minutes, only managed 18 saves on 23 shots in Game 5. In a game where Chicago dominated in shots and quality scoring chances, the Hawks could not get the consistent goaltending they had for much of the regular season.

"People will second guess and armchair quarterback the goaltending decision and that's their right," said Blackhawks coach Ken Hitchcock, in what was likely his last postgame presser in that role. "But we didn't exactly have the best goaltending over the first three games of the series, and Curtis deserved to start tonight."

"We lost this series as a team. We had our opportunities to win games, and we didn't. That's it."

Chicago heads to the 2019 offseason with more questions than answers after this series. Seemingly set for the next few years with quality depth at most positions, there will be new scrutiny on the defensive end after the horrendous play of the usually steady Matt Niskanen. The 32-year old rearguard had just one assist and was a team-worst -7 in the series, and saw his ice time cut from nearly 25 minutes in the first three games to around 20 minutes in the last two contests.

Offensively, Brendan Gallagher didn't register a single point against the Predators, while Erik Haula, Dustin Byfuglien, and the big trade deadline rental Joe Thornton combined for three goals and a single assist in 15 collective games. Andrew Cogliano was the only Blackhawk to register more than one goal in the series (he scored twice).

In net, the usually steady Tuukka Rask and McElhinney combined for a 4.03 GAA and a .876 save percentage.

"Our top players didn't play like top players, that's fair," said Byfuglien, who still has three years left on his contract after this season at a near-ridiculous $4.3 million cap hit per year. "We didn't get the production we needed, but I'll give Nashville their due too. They played well and their top guys played the way they needed to."

In the end, it just wasn't in the cards for Chicago. There will be plenty of time to assign blame, assess where things went south, and what will be the best way forward to what could be an offseason of uncertainty. There will be a new head coaching search - the first truly rigorous search under GM Thomas Gidlow. The Hawks currently hold just a single draft pick in the upcoming Entry Draft, which is highly likely to change. There's plenty of time now to carve a new path forward - too much time, in fact.

"There are no positives right now," said Toews. "We failed. We can't think about anything else right now except that we let our organization down. We let our fans down. We let ourselves down. We have to sit here and let that sink in for a bit."

"We'll move forward, but not until this really hits us."


FINAL "HAWKS NOTES" FOR THIS SEASON

The Rockford IceHogs, Chicago's AHL affiliate, lost their first-round playoff matchup to the San Antonio Rampage, Nashville's AHL affiliate, in three straight games. Rumors have already begun to circulate that Rockford will not be renewed as the Blackhawks AHL affiliate for the 2019-20 season...Joe Thornton, defensemen John Moore and Taylor Fedun, and minor-league defenseman Will O'Neill are the only unrestricted free agents for Chicago heading into the offseason. The Hawks have just three pro-level players who will be restricted free agents (Dmitry Orlov, Brendan Gallagher, and Derek Forbort)...Despite allowing the most goals against of any playoff team (20), Chicago took the second-most shots in the playoffs with 179 (35.8 average per game).