NASHVILLE, Tenn. — By not planning on a sweep, the Nashville Predators accomplished what few thought was possible.
Roman Josi scored twice, Colton Sissons and Viktor Arvidsson each chipped in a goal and an assist, and Pekka Rinne capped an otherworldly series with 30 saves Thursday night as Nashville finished off its first four-game sweep in franchise history with a 4-1 decision over the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Western Conference’s eighth seed outplayed No. 1 seed Chicago, using depth and speed to its advantage while getting a .976 save percentage from Rinne. The result sends the Predators to the conference semifinals against Minnesota or St. Louis next week.
“They’re a great hockey team, but everyone showed up to play,” Nashville captain Mike Fisher said. “We’re only part of the way there.”
Billed as a Stanley Cup contender when the season started six months ago, the Predators spent most of the regular season redefining inconsistency, mixing powerful performances with stretches where they did just enough to lose games.
A late-season surge pushed Nashville over the finish line, but a loss in the regular-season finale at Winnipeg set up the Predators with what looked like a poor matchup on paper. The Blackhawks beat the Predators four of five times en route to a 50-win regular season.
But with the exception of the last two periods of Game 1, which Rinne stole, and short stretches in Game 3 and Game 4, Nashville was clearly a better team. All four lines scored in the series, and the Predators’ defense came up big, no bigger than in the clincher.
“I think we’ll command a little bit more respect around the league,” Sissons said. “We just have to stay hungry and stay humble.”
Sissons epitomized the way the Predators subdued Chicago. One of their depth forwards, Sissons scored in Game 2 and victimized the Blackhawks with a timely goal just when they were putting serious pressure on Rinne.
Sissons, taking a pass from Arvidsson in the high slot, whipped a wrister off the crossbar, then turned back down the ice. But goalie Corey Crawford gifted Sissons his second goal of the series when he swept the puck into the net while trying to locate it at 8:52, giving Nashville a 2-0 lead.
“When we needed a timely goal, we got it,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “When we needed a timely save, Pekka got it. I liked the way we played against Chicago during the regular season, but we didn’t get the wins. We just tried to put together a good game plan, tried to win a game and go on from there.”
Josi snapped a scoreless tie at 9:41 of the second period, capping a long stretch of play in the Chicago defensive zone by ripping a slapper from the right wall through Crawford’s legs for his first goal of the series.
Josi’s second goal came 89 seconds after Sissons’ fluky goal, a beautiful marker on which Sissons teed him up with a pretty feed at the left goalpost. Josi tapped it in for a 3-0 lead that send the standing-room only crowd of 17,326 into a frenzy.
“We’ve always had confidence in this locker room,” Josi said. “They’re a great team, but this is so much fun to beat them.”
Jonathan Toews notched a power play-marker for Chicago at 14:42, but Arvidsson applied the finishing blow with an empty-netter at 18:12 as the crowd chanted “Sweep.”
“We all thought it was going to go a different way,” Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane said. “Disappointed … shocked.”
Crawford made 22 saves in the loss that left coach Joel Quenneville questioning everything from the buttons he could have pushed to his team’s compete level.
“Major disappointment,” Quenneville said. “Not good enough.”
As for the Predators, they now have an unexpected week or more off before they move on to the second round for the second straight season.
“It was good to win a series and we beat a good team,” Laviolette said. “No disrespect to Chicago, but I promise you the next round will be harder. There are eight teams left and every team is a great team.”
NOTES: Chicago opted to go with seven defensemen Thursday night, utilizing Michal Kempny for the first time in the series. … Nashville LW Colin Wilson (lower-body injury) and RW Craig Smith were scratched. Smith left Game 3 in overtime with an injury and was replaced by PA Parenteau for Game 4. … The Blackhawks’ scratches were LW Andrew Desjardins, LW Tomas Jurco, RW Jordin Tootoo, D Michal Roszival, G Jeff Glass, RW Kyle Baun, LW John Hayden, D Gustav Forsling, C Vinnie Hinostroza, LW Tyler Motte and D Erik Gustafsson. … The Predators also scratched D Anthony Bitetto, D Brad Hunt, RW Miikka Salomaki, LW Cody McLeod and LW Vernon Fiddler.