The Nashville Predators were looking to win their second game in a row as they traveled to Chicago to face the Blackhawks. More importantly, the Predators were looking to put a little more breathing room between themselves and the Hawks, who were in hot pursuit of the Preds, just two points back in the standings.
For the Predators, they would face the Blackhawks without Marty Erat, who was scratched with an upper body injury. Andrei Kostitsyn moved up to take Erat's place.
Pekka Rinne was in net for the Predators, while the Hawks had Corey Crawford between the pipes.
For the Predators, it was going to be important to get off to a good start. That good start would come from an unlikely source, the grind line of Paul Gaustad, Brandon Yip, and Matt Halischuk. Gaustad and Yip got the puck down low and did a good job of cycling the puck and forcing the Hawks to chase. The Hawks completely forgot about Halischuk, camped in the low slot. Gaustad got the puck to Halischuk, and his quick wrist shot beat Crawford to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 6:16 of the first period.
For Halischuk, this was his 14th goal of the season, and he continues to put together a quietly solid campaign.
The Predators took a 2-0 lead as Andrei Kostitsyn snapped a wrist shot from the face off circle that beat Crawford stick side at 15:27. The play was set up by a good rush from Patric Hornqvist and David Legwand, who fed the puck to Kostitsyn on the wing. Good to see Andrei get back on the score sheet again.
The Predators did a good job on the forecheck throughout the first period and were stellar on the PK, killing two penalties. As usual, Rinne was strong in the net, making several big saves.
The first period ended with the Predators up 2-0. Chicago out shot the Predators 11-8.
As important as it was for the Predators to get the early lead, it was going to be critical that they play a full 60 minute game starting with the next 20 minutes of the second period.
The Predators number one ranked power play got their first opportunity to display their prowess early in the second with the Hawks Dave Bolland off for roughing. Shea Weber launched a bomb from the blue line that deflected off Alexander Radulov and the Patric Hornqvist past Crawford to give the Predators a 3-0 lead at 5:42 of the second period.
Open the period with good jump.
Now step on the gas boys.
Instead, the Blackhawks started to exert pressure. The Predators held off a strong push by the Blackhawks as Rinne made some good saves and the Predators were scrambling in face of the Hawks effort.
Through two periods, the Predators PK was a perfect 3 for 3, and the pressure exerted by the Hawks had been weathered.
Indicative of the tight checking and tough defense, both teams registered 6 shots apiece on net.
This final 20 minutes was going to be one that the Predators needed to lock down. Everyone in the United Center as well as in the Predators locker room knew that the Hawks would come out hard in the third period and would be playing with desperation. It was up to the Predators to handle that effort and continue to press offensively.
No sitting back in a shell, boys. Keep pressing the attack.
Francis Buillon fired a shot from the blue line that found its way over the shoulder of Crawford to give the Predators a 4-0 lead. On the play, Matt Halischuk fought for and won a critical puck battle to keep possession for the Predators, sliding the puck to Ryan Ellis, who got the puck to Buillon. The Predators goal came at 2:00 of the third period.
With that goal, the Hawks pulled Crawford and sent Ray Emery in net.
The Predators tempted fate once again, as Patric Hornqvist was in the box for slashing, and the Hawks finally just as Hornqvist came out of the box. Viktor Stalberg came off the wall and fired a shot that beat Rinne short side at 5:58.
Could the Hawks be gaining momentum to start a run?
That would be a resounding NO.
With a face off in the Hawks zone, the Predators won the face off back to Shea Weber at the blue line. Weber unleashed a rocket of a slap shot that Emery could only wave at as the puck slammed into the back of the net to give the Predators a 5-1 lead at 6:34 of the third period.
THAT is how you shut off momentum.
The Predators kept up the pressure on the Hawks, getting some quality scoring chances by controlling play in their zone and starting excellent breakouts through the neutral zone. They welcomed Emery to the game by peppering him with shots from all angles.
THAT is how you keep your foot on the gas, boys.
About that stepping on the gas- Mike Fisher broke in 2 on 1 with Andrei Kostitsyn and looked off Emery and absolutely ripped a shot over his shoulder to make it 6-1 at 17:33 of the third. The play was set up by a play on the puck by Gabriel Bourque, who won a puck battle and kicked the puck out to Fisher.
That goal would prove to be the final margin, and this was as complete a game as the Predators have played in a while.
The difference in this game was that the Predators won puck battles, were strong on the forecheck, and throttled the Hawks in the defensive zone.This was especially true in the third period, as the Hawks had very few quality scoring chances.
Once again, Pekka Rinne was strong in net. His play settles this team down, and he was in control of the game all night.
This is the kind of balanced effort that this team will need in the remaining regular season games and in the playoffs. Balanced scoring, aggressive defense, and solid goaltending.
A simple plan, eh?
THAT is how you win hockey games.
My three stars:
1. Matt Halischuk
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Shea Weber