By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks turned in an improved effort as they continued their road trip in Nashville Tuesday night. However, the result was the same as their previous eight games.
The Blackhawks fought back to tie the score twice in the Music City, but another late goal lifted the Predators past their Central Division rivals. Chicago came up on the short end of a 3-2 final score to lose their ninth consecutive game.
The opening period saw both teams committing infractions, starting with Dave Bolland’s hooking penalty in the third minute. Mike Fisher was called for tripping 90 seconds later. In the fifth minute, Jonathan Toews ran into Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, ending Chicago’s shot at the man advantage.
Fisher missed a wide open net late in the resulting power play, but for the most part the Blackhawks were successful in filling the shooting lanes. Nashville killed a Martin Erat holding penalty at the 9:03 mark. This was followed by the two teams taking turns at Rinne and Ray Emery.
With less than two minutes to play in the first, Toews turned over the puck to Sergei Kostitsyn in the neutral zone. Fisher found Ryan Suter trailing the play after getting a pass from Kostitsyn, and at the 18:20 mark, Suter gave the Predators a 1-0 lead.
The Blackhawks responded less than a minute later as the first shift after the goal was winding down. Jamal Mayers brought the puck into the Nashville zone and found himself without any help. Mayers was able to keep possession until Bryan Bickell came over the boards and roared up the middle. Bickell took the pass over the blue line and snapped a shot stick side on Rinne, tying the game at a goal apiece headed into the first intermission.
The Blackhawks traded strong offensive shifts with the Predators to open the second frame, then killed a Marcus Kruger hooking penalty. Chicago kept the action in the Nashville zone with Emery turning away the occasional Nashville shot.
With 6:10 to go in the period, a good piece of work by Patrick Kane behind the Predator net drew a tripping penalty by Roman Josi. For the nineteenth time on the road trip, Chicago was turned away on the power play.
Nashville tallied another late goal off a face off in the Chicago zone in the eighteenth minute. After gaining possession, Ryan Ellis executed a give and go with Jordan Tootoo, then fired a shot from 55 feet out. Nick Spaling got a stick on the shot in front of the net, which was enough to beat Emery and make the score 2-1 in favor of the Predators.
Emery held off two Nashville rushes in the final minute, but the Blackhawks still trailed by a goal heading into the third period.
Again, Chicago came out strong in the final period, dominating the first five minutes but failing to make a dent on the scoreboard. It took a bit longer, but the levee that is Pekka Rinne finally gave way in the seventh minute.
The Blackhawks won a board battle for possession in the Nashville zone. Andrew Brunette and Kruger got the puck to Duncan Keith, who flipped it along the blue line to Marian Hossa. Hossa avoided a turnover, then skated to his right and beat Rinne stickside with 13:55 to play to even the score at two.
Chicago had several prime chances to take the lead, but it was the home team that notched the game winner with less than six minutes to go after a Dylan Olsen turnover. David Legwand gained possession and swung the puck around to Ellis.
Ellis unleashed another slap shot from the blue line. This time, the deflection came off of Keith’s stick. The puck veered just enough to get by Emery and into the net with 5:42 left.
-No one is in any mood for moral victories, but Chicago played their best game since the opening game of this disastrous road trip. If this game comes in December, we come away praising the effort and chalking the loss up to a tough night in Nashville and Rinne. Instead, its nine losses in a row and the Blackhawks find another way to lose.
-Bickell scored his second goal in six games on a nice play; you could feel the weight of a dismal season as he was interviewed between periods. We’re looking for anything, obviously, but maybe Bickell is starting to come out of an extremely deep funk in the last two weeks or so.
-Despite failing to clear the puck late, Olsen played pretty well in a tough spot with two starters back in Chicago with injuries. Olsen was on the ice for nearly 22 minutes and played a big share of the penalty kill minutes.
-This would have been a great game for a healthy Jonathan Toews to exert his will on the outcome. Toews had the spirit but lacked the ability to shake off defenders.
-Tell me you didn’t see that ad with the kid that trades his bike for a popsicle and think it was too bad he wasn’t Nashville general manager David Poile. Ryan Suter would look good in a Blackhawks sweater. Hey, I’ll chip in for the popsicle.
-Chicago outshot the Predators 32-19. Emery probably earned the right to start against the Rangers, but Rinne was the superior goalie Tuesday. Next up on Thursday: Henrik Lundqvist and the league-best New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden. Not exactly a break, but that’s been the way this trip has gone for the Blackhawks.