By Brad Gardner
The Nashville Predators have had a way of bringing out the worst in the Blackhawks this season. That trend continued on Sunday as the Predators won a convincing 6-1 decision over the Hawks in Chicago. The Hawks finished with more shorthanded chances than power play shots as they stared down a multiple goal deficit for much of the contest. Nashville has now taken nine of a possible ten points against Chicago this season and has a four point lead in the standings as both teams have six games left to play.
Corey Crawford started the game but allowed four goals on 15 shots in 42 minutes before he was pulled in favor of Ray Emery. The veteran Emery allowed two third period goals on nine shots. The six goals against was the most for Chicago since February 2nd when they gave up eight goals to the Oilers while deep in the throes of that nine-game losing streak.
The ‘Hawks got off to a quick start, registering the first three shots of the game. Pekka Rinne was forced to make a key save early on when Johnny Oduya was able to sneak behind Sergei Kostitsyn and one-time a shot on net off a pass from Patrick Kane. Rinne got the right pad over to deny the best chance of the game early on.
Despite the start, Matt Halischuk put Nashville on the board first on a shot that deflected off the leg of Oduya and past Crawford. Paul Gaustad and Brandon Yip controlled the puck around the boards and Yip was able to swipe the puck out to Halischuk in the slot. His shot was going well wide of the net but caught Oduya on the knee and kicked directly into the net.
Andrei Kostitsyn extended the lead at the 15:28 mark of the first period. He sent a distant shot from the left wing on the rush that beat Crawford blocker side underneath the crossbar. The shot may have been deflected by the stick of Brent Seabrook but was still back-breaking goal to give up from that far out.
Chicago finished the first with an 11-8 lead in shots over Nashville and yet trailed by two goals on the scoreboard. It would be as close as the Hawks would get – they were held to 14 shots through the final 40 minutes of play and did not manage a single shot on four power play opportunities in the game.
The Predators power play, on the other hand, clicked on their first opportunity in the second period. Shea Weber’s slap shot from the blue line blew the blade off of Marian Hossa‘s stick, deflected towards the net off the heel of Alexander Radulov’s skate, and was deflected again wide on Crawford off Patric Hornqvist’s toe.
There was little noise from the home team in the middle frame, although a strong shift from the fourth line of Jamal Mayers, Brendan Morrison, and Brandon Bollig brought the crowd to life midway through the period. They were unable to convert on any chances, however, and the Hawks trailed by three at the second intermission.
Nashville pushed the lead to 4-0 with another goal two minutes into the third period. Francis Bouillon took a slap shot that made it through the traffic in front and eluded Crawford. It was another goal from outside the prime scoring area but one Crawford did not appear to see. He was pulled in favor of Emery to try to get the home team jump-started early in the third.
Viktor Stalberg was able to break up Rinne’s shutout bid with his 19th goal of the season. Just as a slashing penalty to Hornqvist expired, Stalberg took a pass from Nick Leddy along the sideboards and carried it to the middle of the ice. He was able to beat Rinne short side thanks to a screen by Andrew Shaw battling against Bouillon in front of the crease.
The momentum from the goal did not last long, as Weber sent another rocket on net and was this time credited with his 16th tally of the year. Mike Fisher won the draw cleanly to Weber who slapped a one-time blast inside the far post just 36 seconds after Stalberg’s tally.
Fisher himself added the sixth goal at 17:33 of the final period when he pulled the trigger on a 2-on-1 rush. His release caught Emery by surprise and he barely had time to attempt a save before the puck beat him over the shoulder glove side. Fisher became the sixth Preds player to score in the game and the fourth player to register one goal, one assist on the night. Weber, Halischuk, and Hornqvist also registered a goal and an assist in the victory.
– The Predators blocked 25 shots to just 11 for the Blackhawks. The did a good job of getting in passing lanes and preventing Chicago from establishing much in the way of offensive pressure.
– Brandon Bollig dropped the gloves against Jordin Tootoo right after a faceoff early in the first period. Bollig fell the Predators’ pest with a flurry of lefts. Tootoo left the ice for repairs following the fight and did not return due to an “upper-body injury”.
– Duncan Keith served the first game of his five game suspension for the elbow to the head of Daniel Sedin. Marian Hossa wore the third ‘A’ in his absence.
– Jimmy Hayes was a healthy scratch again in favor of Michael Frolik, who started on the fourth line but finished on the second line with Sharp and Stalberg. Marcus Kruger was out of the line-up with an upper body injury and replaced by Brendan Morrison, who finished a minus-3 in 13 minutes of ice time.
– The Blackhawks celebrated Ed Belfour Heritage Night at the United Center. Belfour was on hand and dropped a ceremonial puck between starting goaltenders Corey Crawford and Pekka Rinne.
– The Hawks next game is Tuesday in New Jersey against the Devils. That game is a 6pm central puck drop.
In addition to covering the Blackhawks for TheThirdManIn.com, Brad is also the Blackhawks correspondent at HockeysFuture.com.