For two periods, the Nashville Predators were outplayed by the Chicago Blackhawks and found themselves in a 2-0 hole going into the third period. Fortunately for the Predators, the hockey game lasted three periods, and tonight went to overtime and a shootout before the Predators prevailed to win 3-2.
With this win, the Predators have won three of four games this season against the Blackhawks and 7 of their last 8 games.
The first period saw both teams skate well and generate some scoring chances. Both Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne and Chicago's Corey Crawford were solid in the net and thwarted scoring opportunities.
Chicago would draw first blood after Patric Hornqvist was called for a weak boarding call against Jack Skille. Skille was at least five feet from the boards when he was cleanly checked by Hornqvist, but the refs deemed it to be a boarding infraction. On the ensuing power play, Tomas Kopecky walked in from deep in the zone and lifted a puck over the shoulder of Rinne at 14:59 to give the Hawks a 1-0 advantage.
Something happened to the Predators during intermission, and it was not good. After being outshot 9-7 in an uptempo first period, the Predators were absolutely dominated in the second period.Chicago controlled the puck for much of the period and the Predators had no offensive flow. This was evidenced by the 14-5 shot advantage that the Hawks owned in the second. Without a strong effort from Rinne, the score could have easily gotten out of hand.
The Blackhawks would add to their advantage in the second as Viktor Stalberg would bank a puck off the back of Rinne to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead at 4:29 of the period. Rinne slid to the post but left a gap between his shoulder and the post. Stalberg threw a bad angle shot that hit Rinne in the shoulder and caromed into the net.
The remainder of the period was spent watching the Predators turn the puck over and ineptly try to skate through the neutral zone. This was a frustrating period of hockey to watch and was as poor of a period of hockey that the Predators have played in a long time.
One can only imagine the blistering the Predators took in the locker room from Head Coach Barry Trotz.
In the third period, the Predators were looking for any spark, anything that would ignite the team and get them going. Something that would show they had some fire.
That first spark would come from Cody Franson as he went deep in the zone on an offensive rush. Franson was met by a Chicago forward who was immediately slapped to the ice by Franson. Maybe this team did have some fight in them.
The spark would fan into a flame as Nick Spaling dug a puck out from behind the Hawks net and sent a nice backhand pass to Jerred Smithson, who was cruising down the slot. Smithson snapped a wrist shot that beat Crawford high glove side. 2-1 Hawks, but now the Predators had some life.
The flame would become an inferno at the 12:00 minute mark. A television timeout would usher in the standing ovation from the crowd that would last the duration of the stoppage in play. Hawks fans can cheer through the anthem, but Predator fans cheer the loudest when it matters most, when their team needs them.
The energy of the crowd flowed to the Predators on the ice. The Preds won an offensive zone face off. Joel Ward tapped the puck to Ryan Suter, who then slid the puck to Shea Weber at the high point. Weber unleashed a slapshot that Crawford never saw until it was in the back of the net, and improbable as it seemed, the Predators had tied the game at 12:20 of the third period.
Neither team could find the twine during the remainder of regulation, and we were heading to overtime tied at 2.
The game was tied because the Predators decided to play Predator hockey in the third period. The Predators forecheck finally started working and created turnovers throughout the period. The defense stymied the Hawks potent offense and controlled the neutral zone. For the period, the Predators outshot the Blackhawks 13-5.
The overtime period was scoreless, but not for lack of effort. Chicago's Patrick Sharp had a glorious scoring opportunity on a breakaway, but was shut down by Rinne. The Hawks had a 3-1 shot advantage in the overtime session.
Going into the shootout, the Predators elected to have Chicago shoot first, and we have seen this story before. Rinne was outstanding, blanking Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp. Marcel Goc, the first shooter for the Predators, shot a puck that went through Crawford and into the net for the only goal of the shootout.
There was a fungus of Chicago fans in the arena, as many had journeyed to Nashville for a big high school hockey tournament. It was certainly good to see them leaving the arena with sad faces.
In the Florida game, the Predators were out skated throughout the contest and suffered a loss as a result. Tonight, the Predators were on the verge of losing their second in a row after a horrid second period when they were beaten in all facets of the game.
Without a solid third period, the Predators would have suffered their second defeat. The second period of tonight's contest is vivid demonstration of the fact that this team has to skate hard and do the little things to be successful. They did not, and it almost cost them.
It doesn't get any easier for the Predators as they embark on a six game road trip, starting tomorrow night against these same Blackhawks.
Take the lesson learned from this awful period of hockey tonight and learn from it. Do the little things, skate hard, and you will enjoy a good road trip.
And burn a few teams along the way.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Jerred Smithson
3. Joel Ward