When a team endures a losing streak, one of two things can happen. They can hang their heads and limp along; or the losses can be extremely clarifying, causing a team to focus on what it takes to win games and get back to those fundamentals.
For the Nashville Predators, the latter has occurred, as they won their second straight game, beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in a shootout at the Bridgestone Arena.
For Nashville, this was their second consecutive shootout victory.
It is obvious that the Blackhawks are an explosive team, and for the Predators to have an opportunity to win this game, they had to be sound defensively and limit the chances of the Hawks dangerous offensive players. For most of the night, the Predators did an excellent job of controlling the big guns of the Hawks, holding Kane, Toews, Hossa, and Sharp off the board.
The Predators did a great job of controlling play in the neutral zone and not allowing Chicago many opportunities to enter the offensive zone with speed. When the Hawks gain the zone, the Predators blocked numerous shots and clogged the lanes, limiting secondary chances.
That is not to say that the Hawks didn't challenge Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne. Rinne made some big saves to keep Chicago off the board. Rinne was solid in net during the regulation and overtime period, and was brilliant in the shootout.
Chicago is not without offensive prowess, and shutting down the big guns doesn't mean that they cannot score. Jack Skille proved that tonight with two goals, the first coming at 19:07 of the first period. Skille took a nice pass from Brian Campbell and beat Rinne stick side with a shot that went just inside the post to stake the Blackhawks to a 1-0 lead.
Nashville would answer at 2:37 of the first period on a nice tic tac toe passing play.Shane O'Brien took a nice pass from Marcel Goc and beat Chicago netminder Marty Turco with a quick wrister that went top shelf. Turco could not get across his net fast enough to stop the shot from O'Brien, and his goal sent the Nashville crowd into a frenzy.
That energy would amp up as Shea Weber unleashed a shot on the power play that went through Turco to give the Predators a lead at 5:37 of the second. Turco was in good position, but couldn't handle the velocity of the cannon shot that Weber sent to the net.
Chicago would tie the game at 2 at 6:51 of the period as Viktor Stalberg would beat Rinne high stick side.
The Hawks would once again regain the lead as Skille scored his second of the night at 9:10 as he fired a wrist shot from just inside the faceoff circle that would beat Rinne high glove side.
The Predators looked to have tied the game as Patric Hornqvist scored early in the third, but the goal was waved off as it was ruled that Hornqvist had kicked the puck into the net in a goal mouth scramble.
The tie would come for the Predators at 10:23 of the third period as Cody Franson sent a wrist shot from the point low along the ice. The puck went in cleanly, and Turco had his eyes taken away by Hornqvist who was screening in front of the net. The puck found the far post and the Predators had evened the score.
Neither team could solve the others netminder for the remainder of the period, and once again the Predators were heading to overtime.
With Patrick Kane in the box for tripping, the Predators had several good scoring chances, but Turco bailed out the Hawks.The power play showed good movement and generated scoring opportunities, a positive sign for this unit that has struggled at times this season.
In the shootout, Pekka Rinne stopped Jonathan Toews. Cal O'Reilly buried the first attempt for the Predators as he roofed a shot to the top corner over Turco's glove. Rinne stopped Patrick Kane. Turco stopped a weak attempt by Steve Sullivan. Rinne then stoned Patrick Sharp, and the Predators skated off with their second win in a row and their second in two meetings with the Blackhawks.
The Predators welcomed Marty Erat and Ryan Suter back to the lineup tonight after both had missed games due to injury. Their presence was positive for the team and they logged quality minutes. Erat picked up an assist tonight. The team needs them back in the lineup consistently.
Did you notice the regulation scoring for the Predators? All three goals were from defensemen. Opportunistic scoring, a hallmark of Predator hockey, was evident tonight.
The Predators did a good job of pressuring Turco tonight. They were aggressive and effective on the forecheck. They limited second chances. They got solid goaltending.
They played Predator hockey. Winning hockey.
Losing several games in a row leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It also teaches painful lessons. Lessons that if taken to heart can turn around a team and their fortunes.
My three stars of the night:
1. Cal O'Reilly
2. Jack Skille
3. Cody Franson