The Chicago fans in attendance in Nashville clapped and cheered during the national anthem.
Predator fans cheered when it was most important: as the clock wound down on a dominating 5-2 win over their Central Division rivals.
The Predators controlled the Hawks throughout the game, winning puck battles and stifling a very potent offense with an aggressive forecheck and solid defense to go with the solid goaltending of netminder Pekka Rinne.
The game opened as an up and down affair with both teams attempting to establish their offense, but unable to get any consistency. Both defenses were working hard in their zone and did not let either team establish a flow to their offensive effort.
That changed at 15:05 of the first period as Marian Hossa broke in on Shea Weber. Hossa made a great move to turn Weber around and slid a backhand from the slot under the pads of Rinne to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
That lead lasted 2:14 as the Predators tied the game with a power play goal. Ryan Ellis took a shot that Chicago netminder Corey Crawford kicked out with his pad directly to Craig Smith at the side of the net. Smith buried the shot over a sprawling Crawford to tie the game at 17:19. For the rookie, this was his 10th goal of the season, 6 of which have come on the power play.
The period ended tied at one, but the Predators had out shot the Hawks 7-2, although the Hawks hit a post in the period.. Throughout that period, then Predators won puck battles, were strong on the boards, and were thwarting the Hawks in the neutral zone.
This is the Hawks, and they possess an explosive offense. This effort in the first period was going to have to continue in the second if the Predators were going to secure a critical win against a team they were chasing in the standings.
Not only did that effort continue for the Predators, it got better.
The Predators continued their strong play, and it felt as if it would just be a matter of time before they broke through with another score.
Sergei Kostitsyn scored off a rebound, but that goal was waved off as it was ruled that Kostitsyn hit the puck with a high stick. No score and no break through against the Hawks.
That break through score came at 5:15 of the second, but not how anyone expected it to occur. Kevin Klein took the puck in over the center red line and flipped a puck toward the net. It landed on edge and took a high bounce over the shoulder of Crawford to give the Predators a 2-0 lead.
Good things happen when you put the puck on net.
Taking a cue from Klein, the Predators swarmed the Chicago net and pressured the Hawks defense and Crawford. Their effort was rewarded at 11:14 of the second as David Legwand drove the net and forced Crawford to slide to his left. Legwand deftly slipped the puck to Colin Wilson, who was alone at the right side of the crease, and Wilson knocked the puck into the open net to give the Predators a 3-1 lead.
Roman Josi bodied Hossa off the puck and had a breakaway that Crawford stopped. Josi made a strong play to take Hossa off the puck and then showed his speed as he charged down the ice. More and More, I am impressed with his play.
Sergei Kostitsyn finally got his goal as he broke in on Crawford and deked Crawford to the ice. Kostitsyn lifted the puck over the prone goaltender for a 4-1 Predators lead at 16:03 of the second period. That goal sent Crawford to and early exit and Ray Emery came in to take over in net.
The Predators had controlled the second period, much as they had the first. The shots were 11-9 for the Predators, but they had a decided territorial advantage. When they Hawks did get shots on net, Rinne cleaned up the scoring chances. Chicago hit a crossbar in the second, but their quality scoring chances were limited by the Predators defense.
It was expected that the Hawks would have a push in the final 20 minutes, and they did just that. Hossa struck again as Roman Josi was caught pinching in the offensive zone and could not get back into the play. Hossa took an outlet pass from Niklas Hjarmalsson and beat the defense back into the offensive zone, His backhand shot beat Rinne five hole to make it 4-2 just 48 seconds into the third period.
Whatever momentum the Hawks had from that goal was snuffed out as Kevin Klein fired a slap shot from the blue line that was re-directed by Patric Hornqvist to make it 5-2 Predators at 3:08 of the third period.
Chicago out shot the Predators 11-5 in the third period, but most of those shots were from the perimeter as the Predators did a good job of clogging the shooting lanes and forcing the Hawks to the outside.
As the clock wound down, the Predator faithful stood and cheered when it counted most- a victory over a Central Division foe that they were chasing in the standings.
With this win, the Predators have won 8 of the 10 games they have played in January. This is critical, because their opponents in the Central have been winning as well. As for how the Predators their Central Division opponents? They are 9-2-2 so far this season.
The Predators lost Francis Buillon near the end of the first period and played the rest of the game with 5 defensemen. There were some mix and match combinations on the blue line throughout the rest of the game, but this unit played very well in limiting the chances of the potent Hawks forwards.
The Hawks lost Jonathan Toews for the third period as he went out with an injury, believed to be an aggravation of his wrist injury suffered in the game against the Panthers the previous night.
The Predators are a team that is growing before our eyes. They are gelling into a solid team that is getting balanced scoring and solid defense to go with their exceptional goaltending.
This is a formula for pounding the teams they face.
My three stars:
1. Kevin Klein
2. Sergei Kostitsyn
3. Marian Hossa