The Nashville Predators were in the Windy City to face the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks in a game that the Predators desperately needed to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.
Pekka Rinne was in the net for the Predators, while the Blackhawks had Corey Crawford between the pipes.
The Predators played an up and down first period with the Hawks, with each team getting good scoring chances but unable to capitalize.
That is until 11.3 seconds left in the period when Brandon Saad took a shot from the half boards that hit the skate of Jonathan Blum and deflected past Rinne to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
The play was set up when the Predators took a late icing and then lost the face off in their zone.
Little things. Big consequences.
The second period began with the Predators having lost the services of their leading scorer, Gabriel Bourque, due to an injury suffered in the first period.
Pekka Rinne was busy to begin the second period as the Predators had to kill off a penalty and the Hawks fired 6 shots on net during the ensuing power play.
Rinne also came up huge with a magnificent save on Andrew Shaw on a 2 on 1 break by the Hawks.
The Predators short circuited their first power play of the game as Patric Hornqvist was called for a 4 minute high sticking penalty just 30 seconds into the power play.
In the ensuing 4 on 4, Jonathan Blum got caught too deep in the offensive zone and it created a 2 on 1 with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews breaking into the zone. Kane buried a puck glove side to make it 2-0 Hawks at 12:10 of the second period.
The second period ended 2-0, but it could have been much worse if Rinne had not been strong in net. The Hawks fired 18 shots at Rinne in the second, while the Predators anemic offense returned and they could only muster 4 shots on goal.
The Predators got on the board at 3:56 of the third period as Crawford went to cover the puck on a dump in but did not control it. David Legwand drove the net and poked the puck from between the goalies hands and under him for his 9th goal of the season.
Call it a fluke. Call it what you want, but it was a much needed goal for the Predators. The hope was that it would give the Preds some momentum in a game that up to this point had been owned by the Hawks.
That goal energized the Predators, as they had out shot the Hawks 8-0 through the first 7 minutes of the third period and were putting pressure on the Hawks in the offensive zone.
That pressure paid off as Taylor Beck scored at 7:56 to tie the game at 2. Beck took a pass from Patric Hornqvist and lost control of the puck but was able to flip it toward the net. Crawford bobbled the puck and fought to find it, but the puck managed to trickle across the line for the game tying goal. That was Beck's second goal of the season.
The Predators continued to press and created some good chances, but could not score in the remainder of the period. Rinne was solid and shut out the Hawks in the period, and as improbable as it appeared at the start of the third period, the Predators had battled back to force overtime.
Indicative of the effort by the Predators, they out shot the Hawks 15-9 in the third period.
The overtime was fast paced and scoreless, and for the eighth time this season, each team was headed to a shootout.
In the shootout, Toews roofed a shot over Rinne, while Hornqvist missed the net in the first round.
Patrick Kane was stopped by Rinne and Craig Smith scored on a beautiful fake in the second round.
Rinne stopped Andrew Shaw and Crawford stopped Legwand in the third round.
Brandon Saad lost control of the puck and Crawford stopped Kostitsyn in the fourth round.
Michael Rozsival scored in the fifth round and Taylor Beck was stopped by Crawford for the win for the Hawks.
The Predators lost their most dynamic forward in the first period as Gabriel Bourque left the game with an undisclosed injury. The hope is that the injury is not serious and will not keep the Swedish Chef out of the line up for any extended period.
At the end of the second period, the feeling was that the Predators were lucky to be down only 2-0. The Hawks owned the second period. Yet the Predators came out with focus, purpose, and energy in the third and battled back to tie the game. It would have been easy for the Predators to wilt in a hostile environment against a more talented opponent. They did not. They showed character and fought back. This is the kind of effort that the team can build upon, and they have to do that to win some critical games upcoming.
Kudos to the team for fighting back in a tough contest. It would have been easy to quit, but they didn't. The effort in the third period was solid, making up for a dismal second period. The Predators have to bring that effort they had in the final 20 and bring it for a full 60 minutes.
The road to the playoffs doesn't get any easier as the Predators will meet the Hawks two more times within the next week.
It is time to lay it all on the line, boys.
My three stars:
1. Brandon Saad
2. David Legwand
3. Pekka Rinne