The Predators, who acquired Neal from Pittsburgh to add scoring punch, got what they were looking for as Neal had a natural hat trick to lead the Predators to a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena.
Ben Smith had given the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead at 12:21 of the first period by beating Pekka Rinne with a flip over his pads from in close.
Neal answered by beating Antti Raanta from the left face off circle with a snap shot over the stick at 19:12 of the first period.
Neal gave the Predators a 2-1 lead 16:12 of the second period as he blasted a shot from the right side of the slot that Raanta had no chance. Neal showed that he can scorch a shot, and although he was unscreened, Raanta could not get the glove up fast enough on that heater.
Neal gave the Predators a 3-1 lead at 1:52 of the third period as Raanta could not control the shot from Ryan Ellis from the left face off circle. The puck trickled out to the right side and Neal was driving the net. He was able to tap the puck into the open net before Raanta could get back into position.
Chicago is a talented team and everyone in the building knew they would be making a strong push in the third period.
They did just that, out shooting the Predators 17-6. Rinne made some incredible saves to thwart some very scoring chances by the Hawks.
The Blackhawks made it interesting when Andrew Shaw knocked a puck out of mid-air and over the shoulder of Rinne at 12:36 of the third (it looked for all the world like that puck was played with a high stick, but the officials let the play stand).
Rinne was called upon to shut the door, and he and the defense did so in the face of some good pressure by the Hawks, including the final 1:25 with Raanta pulled for an extra attacker.
- Going back to last season, the Predators are 5-2-1 against the Blackhawks. The Predators are 43-39-2-9 all time against the Hawks. They are 24-16-6 against the Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena.
- The line of Neal, Ribeiro, and Forsberg has become a legitimate threat for the Predators. With the hat trick tonight, Neal leads the team with 5 goals. Ribeiro has picked up points in five straight games. Forsberg leads the team in points (1G-6A) and assists, with 6.
- The last hat trick for the Predators came on January 1, 2012 by Sergei Kostitsyn.
- Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford did not make the trip with team due to an upper body injury.
- The Predators power play was 0-2, continuing their struggles. I will say that the two power plays looked much better tonight with more movement and traffic in front of Raanta. This is an area that the team obviously has to improve upon.
- The Predators committed only one penalty, which they successfully killed. One of the keys to winning was to not give the potent Hawks power play opportunities and tonight the Predators played very disciplined hockey.
- Rinne was outstanding, making some great saves, especially in the third period when the Hawks turned up the pressure. He is playing with confidence and the team feeds off that confidence.
- The Predators continue to struggle in the face off circle, winning only 45% of the draws. Paul Gaustad was 50% (12 of 24), the best among the forwards that took more than one face off. Mike Ribeiro was a woeful 5 of 16.
- The Hawks had not given up a third period goal all season until tonight.
It feels good to get this win, but it is just a step in a long season.
But this is learning it can take those steps.
My three stars:
1. James Neal
2. Pekka Rinne
3. fillip Forsberg
- The Predators are the only team not to have a regulation loss this season.