By STEVE MEGARGEE, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Pekka Rinne stopped almost every shot he faced. Nashville’s top line was outstanding, and Roman Josi and P.K. Subban keyed a solid defensive performance.READ MORE: Unemployment In Michigan: 30,816 New Jobless Claims Filed Last Week
The Predators were relentless, all the way to the very end. Way too much for the slumping Chicago Blackhawks.
Roman Josi scored twice, Rinne had 30 saves and Nashville beat Chicago 4-1 on Thursday night to complete a surprising sweep of the Western Conference’s top seed.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” Josi said. “I thought we played a great series. That’s a great team over there. We’ve got a lot of respect for them. They’ve got some world-class players and I thought we played really well in all those four games.”
Colton Sissons also scored and Viktor Arvidsson added an empty-net goal as Nashville completed the franchise’s first playoff sweep. Led by Rinne’s shutouts in the first two games, the Predators limited the high-scoring Blackhawks to just three goals in 13 periods.
Nashville will face the winner of the St. Louis-Minnesota series in the second round. The Blues have a 3-1 lead heading into Game 5 on Saturday in Minnesota.
Chicago became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the opening round since the Los Angeles Kings knocked off the Vancouver Canucks on their way to the Stanley Cup title in 2012. Chicago’s second straight first-round exit followed a regular season in which the Blackhawks went 50-23-9 and recorded 109 points, the second-highest total in franchise history.
“Not good enough,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “I don’t think anybody exceeded their expectations, didn’t compete to the level that’s necessary. I take that personally as a coach to find the ‘all-out’ button and didn’t get the job done.”
It was the first time a No. 1 seed was swept in the first round since the NHL adopted its current playoff format in 1994. The Blackhawks had the best record in the Campbell Conference and were the Norris Division’s No. 1 seed in 1993 when they got swept by St. Louis in the opening round. That also was the last time the Blackhawks had been swept in a playoff series before Nashville’s dominant performance.
“It’s tough enough to lose a series and fall short,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s a whole different story to lose four straight and get swept like we did.”
It was particularly sweet for Nashville after it was eliminated by Chicago during the Blackhawks’ 2010 and 2015 Stanley Cup title runs. The Blackhawks also had gone 4-1 against the Predators during the regular season.
“I feel like 2010 and 2015 we lost against these guys in the first round,” Rinne said. “Now we’ve had a chance to redeem ourselves, a little payback.”
The Predators were billed as Stanley Cup contenders before the season after putting together arguably their most talented roster since the franchise launched in 1998-99. But they struggled through an inconsistent season that left them playing the mighty Blackhawks in the opening round.READ MORE: If Kids Are Able To Get COVID Vaccine, Health Department May Re-Evaluate Michigan’s Re-Opening Plan
Now they are living up to their preseason billing — and have a veteran goaltender in peak form.
“Anytime we seemed to start to get things going, they found ways to stymie our momentum or our offense,” Toews said.
Game 4 was scoreless midway through the second period when Ryan Johansen won a faceoff against Marcus Kruger and passed to Ryan Ellis, who sent it to Josi on his right. Josi fired a slap shot from behind the right circle that got between Corey Crawford’s legs and sneaked into the left corner of the net at 9:41.
Nashville extended the lead to 2-0 with a bizarre goal at 8:52 of the third. Sissons fired a shot that bounced off the cage and appeared to end up in the area of Crawford’s blocker before the puck came loose and rolled into the net. Less than 90 seconds later, Josi beat Crawford on a wrist shot .
Crawford was exceptional for the first 29 1/2 minutes, but he didn’t get much help in the final part of the game. He finished with 22 stops.
In an attempt to create a spark, the Blackhawks altered their lines, and star forward Patrick Kane played almost 24 minutes. They dressed seven defensemen — Michal Kempny made his playoff debut — and nothing worked.
Chicago avoided the shutout when Toews scored at 14:42 of the third for his first postseason goal since Game 4 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Toews had been held without a goal for 12 straight postseason games.
Arvidsson wrapped up the sweep with an empty-netter with 1:48 remaining.
“We are proud of ourselves,” Sissons said. “That’s no easy thing to do, sweep the Blackhawks. They have championship-caliber talent over there. We did it in four, so we couldn’t be happier.”
NOTES: The Blackhawks also dropped their last four games in the regular season. … Predators forward Craig Smith was scratched after he got hurt in overtime of Game 3. … The Predators brought out more Nashville star power by having Luke Bryan sing the national anthem. John Hiatt performed on a stage behind one of the nets between the second and third periods. Carrie Underwood, who is married to Predators captain Mike Fisher, sang the anthem Monday. … The sellout crowd of 17,326 included Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey and general manager Jon Robinson.
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