Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago Blackhawks were the closest thing there was to a dynasty in the parity-filled NHL. Not anymore.
A 4-1 defeat in Game 4 at the hands of the Nashville Predators on Thursday brought an abrupt and surprising finish to Chicago's season, all but signifying the end of an era in which the Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in the past seven years.
The thumping they took at the hands of the Predators made the Blackhawks the first conference No. 1 seed to ever be swept four straight by a No. 8 seed. Chicago also becomes just the second team in NHL history (it's never happened in the NBA, either) to be swept in a first-round best-of-seven series after owning the conference's best record during the regular season. The 1993 Blackhawks were the last team to do such when they were dusted four straight by the Blues in a No.1 vs. No. 4 matchup—it was also the last time Chicago has been swept in a playoff series at all.
The Blackhawks, who were ousted in the first round for the second straight season, finished the regular season atop the Western Conference as one of four teams with 100-plus points and the only club in the West to reach the 50-win mark. They were nine wins and 15 points better than the Nashville team that just showed them the broom, and were 4-1 against the Preds this season. Despite everything pointing in Chicago's favour, the signs that the team was in trouble started to show after the Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed on April 4. Since then, they didn't win another game, dropping the last four of the regular season to enter the playoffs on the worst losing skid of any of the 16 teams that qualified.
Corey Crawford was badly outplayed by his counterpart PekkaRinne. Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Quite simply, a young and energetic Predators team took the more experienced Blackhawks (many on their roster with multiple Stanley Cup rings) to school, outscoring Chicago 13-3 and posting two shutouts over the four-game set. Nashville's top line of Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, and Filip Forsberg are the hottest in all of hockey right now. The trio scored five of the Preds' 13 goals in the series and combined for 15 points over the sweep.
Chicago's best players, on the other hand, ghosted hard. Only two skaters, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, had multiple points in the series, but both posted zero even strength points in four games. Chicago scored only one even strength goal the whole series, marking the least productive stretch of its season, by far.
You often don't have to look past the goalie battle to see who took the series, and this one wasn't even close. Predators netminder Pekka Rinne was out of his damn mind, stopping 123 of 126 Blackhawks shots, while kicking the series off with two straight shutouts at the United Center in Chicago, one of the hardest buildings for visitors to play in the league. He finished with a microscopic 0.70 goals-against average and ridiculous .976 save percentage. Chicago's Corey Crawford, on the other hand, was nowhere near where he had to be, allowing 12 goals in four games and posting a save percentage barely over .900.
It's crazy, sometimes, just how quick the mighty can fall.