By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks nearly let a two-goal advantage go for naught Monday night against the Nashville Predators. It took a shootout goal in the fifth round by defenseman Michal Roszival, but the ‘Hawks avoided the tag of April Fools with a 3-2 shootout victory.
The Blackhawks spent most of the first half of the opening period on the attack in the Nashville zone. Jonathan Toews had a couple of opportunities early, as did Nick Leddy off a feed from Patrick Kane.
Andrew Shaw had the puck on his stick in the ninth minute but couldn’t get off a decent shot. Dave Bolland centered Kane at the 10:45 mark for a nice scoring chance but Pekka Rinne stopped the attempt.
The Predators didn’t get anything going in Chicago’s zone until the 12th minute. The ‘Hawks then went back to pressuring the Nashville defense. It took until the 19:49 point in the period, but the ‘Hawks got on the board before the first intermission.
A faceoff win in the Nashville zone by Toews resulted in Niklas Hjalmarsson finding Brandon Saad at the top of the right circle. Saad sent the puck toward the net, where it bounced off the skate of Jonathan Blum and past Rinne. This gave Chicago a 1-0 lead going into the locker room.
The Blackhawks went back on the offensive following the puck drop in the second period, outshooting the Predators 8-1 in the first five minutes. They gained a power play about a minute in when Paul Gaustad held Toews. Toews took a pass from Jimmy Hayes and drove to the net but couldn’t bring the puck to his forehand side. Rinne turned away several solid attempts to deny the ‘Hawks.
Gaustad got the puck out of the box and created a scoring chance, but Corey Crawford stopped Martin Erat’s redirect to neutralize the chance. A moment later, Viktor Stalberg came down the left side and found Shaw for a point-blank shot that was stopped by Rinne. Late in the ninth minute, Daniel Carcillo sent a puck behind the net that bounced out in front of the net. Rinne barely prevented Carcillo from following his own puck to a goal.
At 10:57, Brent Seabrook was called for hooking and Nashville had a chance to even the score on a power play. Thirty-seven seconds later, Patric Hornqvist drew blood on Hjalmarsson to negate the advantage. On the resulting four on four, Kane came into the zone with Toews on a two-on-one. Seeing the lane to the captain closing, Kane zipped one glove side on Rinne. The puck met twine and the ‘Hawks now led 2-0.
Chicago failed to build on the lead despite over two minutes of power play time. Shaw and Gaustad got into a shoving match that led to more four-on-four time. The Blackhawks nearly got another late goal when Jeremy Morin made a nice pass to Saad with 12 seconds left. Saad’s backhand attempt was denied by Rinne and Chicago had to settle for a two-goal advantage after outshooting the Predators 27-11 through 40 minutes.
Nashville got back into the game on a miscue by Crawford in the fourth minute of the final period. The ‘Hawks goalie was late on covering a puck and paid for it when David Legwand knocked it from his glove and into the net at the 3:58 mark. The Predators trailed 2-1 and immediately went on the attack.
For nearly two minutes, Nashville held the puck in the Chicago zone in what was their most dominant offensive surge of the night so far. Crawford weathered the storm as the Predators outshot the ‘Hawks 8-0 in the first eight minutes of the period.
Nashville knotted the contest a moment later after Hornqvist and Legwand forced a turnover in the Chicago zone. Hornqvist found Tyler Beck coming up the left side. Beck’s shot was stopped initially by Crawford, but the puck trickled across the goal line at the 7:26 mark. Just like that, 40 minutes of dominance meant absolutely nothing. Coach Joel Quenneville called his timeout and Chicago tried to get the momentum back.
It was nearly twelve minutes into the period before Bryan Bickel got off Chicago’s first shot of the period. Morin got off a backhand shot while falling to the ice that struck the side of the net, but the score remained 2-2 with five minutes to play.
Crawford made a save on Gaustad, who tried to tap in a marvelous feed by Erat, with 4:37 left. Rinne lost his stick in the 19th minute but the ‘Hawks couldn’t capitalize. Hjalmarsson fired a slap shot off of Rinne’s glove in the waning seconds, but this game would require extra time.
Chicago had an odd-man rush early in overtime, followed by a strong shift by Michael Frolik. Crawford turned away a similar rush by the Predators with just over a minute to go. Kane got off a spin-o-rama in the last seconds that Rinne stopped in traffic. It was then on to the shootout.
Toews deked Rinne and roofed home a goal. Hornqvist’s attempt was high and wide. Kane’s stick-handling act was headed for an open net but was stopped by Rinne’s skate. Craig Smith was true with his backhand attempt over Crawford.
Shaw tried to go backhand on Rinne but was stopped with the right pad. Legwand’s backhand attempt was denied as well, so extra skaters were needed to settle the contest.
Saad had Rinne down but couldn’t get the puck on his blade to complete the play. Sergei Kostitsyn came across the crease but didn’t fool Crawford. Roszival gave the ‘Hawks the lead with a top-shelf backhand over Rinne, followed by a stop of Beck by Crawford to close out the win.
-Crawford deserves the blame for the goal that sparked Nashville’s comeback. Crawford also may have pushed in the second Predators goal. However, the guy withstood the blitz that was Nashville’s late effort and made the stops when needed in the shootout. For the night Crawford was 25 for 27 on shots on goal.
-Dave Bolland left the game after blocking a shot in the first period and did not return. Per Quenneville: lower body, day-to-day. Newly acquired Michal Handzus may prove to be a valuable pick-up if Bolland misses any time.
-A scary moment occurred late in the first when Toews caught an elbow from Erat. Toews headed to the bench but seemed none the worse for wear.
-After Gaustad and Shaw nearly squared off, Steve Konroyd pointed out the size difference between the six-four Gaustad and what Konroyd said was the six-foot Shaw. Apparently a sore throat throws off one’s vision as Shaw is closer to five-nine. Not that it would have mattered to Shaw if the two had dropped the gloves.
-I thought Morin had another strong effort Monday. What happens to him and Hayes when Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp return? The rosters will expand to accommodate them, but they may be better off playing a few games in Rockford.
-I also have liked what Frolik has added to the top-six in his current stint. It would be great to see him retain some confidence to aid in team depth once Hossa and Sharp are back in action.
-The shootout doesn’t bother me as far as the Predators picking up a gift of a point. It is tough to stomach a game that Chicago dominated for 40 minutes, and then nearly gave it away as Nashville suddenly came alive in the ‘Hawks zone. Of course, that’s par for the course when grinding out games with Barry Trotz and the bottom line is that the ‘Hawks hit the sheets with a win.
-Get used to the grinding as Chicago faces Nashville twice more in the next few days. Next up is the Blues, who visit Thursday.