By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks gave up another two goal lead in the third period and lived to tell the tale, taking two points against the Predators in regulation with a 5-4 win in Nashville. Brent Seabrook tallied the go-ahead goal at 8:19 of the third period to give the ‘Hawks just their second win in six games against the Predators this season.
With the win, the Blackhawks clinched a playoff spot and drew even in the standings with Detroit (off Saturday, now has a game in hand on both teams) and one point behind Nashville for fourth in the Western Conference.
The first period featured action at both ends of the rink with Chicago leading 16-12 in the shot column. The Blackhawks struck first on an early power play opportunity when Patrick Sharp got a fortunate bounce off a defenseman at 3:25 of the first period. Sharp picked up a loose puck and attempted to cross it to Patrick Kane. The pass instead deflected off Hal Gill as he attempted to fill the lane and past Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne to give Chicago the early 1-0 lead.
Corey Crawford played an important role in the ‘Hawks taking that one goal lead into the first intermission, making strong stops against open chances from Paul Gaustad and Patric Hornqvist near the crease. He had a spectacular save late in the period when he denied Nick Spaling’s one-time attempt off a blocked shot.
A hooking penalty against David Legwand carried over to the start of the second period and the visitors were able to capitalize. Dave Bolland made it a 2-0 game 65 seconds into the second period when he converted on a backdoor play, set up beautifully on a saucer pass from Marian Hossa. Bolland finished the season series with two of Chicago’s three power play goals against Nashville in their 25 opportunities with the man advantage.
Nashville went on a power play of their own a few minutes later but they were held without a shot. Just as the penalty expired, Niklas Hjalmarsson hit Patrick Kane with a long stretch pass to spring him for a breakaway. Kane out-skated Francis Bouillon and beat Rinne five-hole to extend the lead to three goals.
Viktor Stalberg skated around Bouillon for a breakaway of his own less than two minutes later. His shot went wide, but he re-gathered the puck below the goal line. He threw it back towards the crease and got the deflection off Rinne to give Chicago a 4-0 lead around the midway point of the game.
Although it seemed to be turning into a one-sided affair, Nashville drew closer with a pair of goals within a minute midway through the second period. Martin Erat scored a quick power play goal at 9:29 of the second period and was quickly followed by Shea Weber’s 18th goal of the season at 10:18. Crawford was challenged by traffic in front on both goals, slow to drop down because of a screen by Patric Hornqvist on the power play goal and the victim of a deflection off Johnny Oduya‘s skate on the second tally.
Chicago bumbled a pair of power play opportunities in the second but still managed to take the 4-2 lead into the intermission. It was Nashville, however, that looked like the fresher team to start the third period despite having played Friday night in Detroit.
Alexander Radulov scored his third goal in six games with the Predators on a great rush to split the Chicago defense. Neither Brent Seabrook nor Sean O’Donnell could close in quick enough on Radulov as he deked his way between them and cashed in on the backhand all alone against Crawford.
A boarding penalty against Dave Bolland sent the Predators back on the power play minutes later and eventually resulted in Weber’s game-tying goal seven minutes into the third period. The defenseman’s blast found its way through traffic and Crawford did not have a chance as it hit the top corner blocker side. The goal was number 19 for Weber, which tied him with Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the most goals by a defenseman in the NHL this season.
The tie did not last long as Seabrook converted on another successful backdoor play for the ‘Hawks. This time it was a great backhand pass from Andrew Shaw, between the legs of Bouillon, that found Seabrook wide open for the one-time shot. He made no mistake pumping it past Rinne to give the ‘Hawks the 5-4 lead. Crawford made six more saves, surviving back-to-back icing penalties by Bryan Bickell in the final minute, to preserve the win.
– Both goalies saw a lot of rubber: Crawford finished with 29 saves on 33 shots, Rinne with 32 saves on 37 shots.
– Nashville dominated the dot, winning 42 draws to Chicago’s 20. Sharp and Marcus Kruger combined to win only 3 of their 21 draws.
– The three stars were all defensemen. Shea Weber was 3rd star, Ryan Suter 2nd star, and Brent Seabrook 1st star with an assist to go along with the game-winning goal.
– Jimmy Hayes suited up in place of Michael Frolik. Hayes, who was a healthy scratch for six consecutive games prior to Saturday, skated 2:55 on the fourth line.
– The Blackhawks return to Chicago on Sunday for Fan Appreciation Night at the United Center. Puck drop is 6pm central for the first of two meetings against the Minnesota Wild in the season’s final week.
In addition to covering the Blackhawks for TheThirdManIn.com, Brad is also the Blackhawks correspondent at HockeysFuture.com.