The Nashville Predators came into tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks in desperate need of points in the standings. They weren’t able to grab both points tonight against the best team in the Western Conference, but they did steal one to keep their slim playoff chances alive.
The Preds actually played Chicago pretty tight for most of the first period. It was a relatively clean period of hockey with no penalties at all (though Dan Carcillo escaped punishment on a nasty hit – see the observations below). It was very nearly a scoreless period as well. But Brandon Saad put Chicago on the board at 19:48, firing a shot from the left wing that hit something before bouncing past Pekka Rinne to make it 1-0 Blackhawks.
Nashville ended the first period down 9-7 in shots, but they were down 27-11 by the end of the second after Chicago turned up the heat. The Blackhawks ran every aspect of the game in the second period and finally doubled their lead at 12:10 when Jonathon Blum made a bad decision to pinch playing 4-on-4. Nick Leddy found Patrick Kane, who blew through the neutral zone and up the right wing with Jonathan Toews moving down through the slot. Kane fired and handcuffed Pekka Rinne glove-side to make it a 2-0 Blackhawks advantage.
As much as they outplayed the Nashville Predators, though, the Blackhawks were unable to pick up any more goals thanks to some stellar play from Pekka Rinne. And once the third period began, their fatigue from blowing out Detroit 7-1 the previous night began to show.
Nashville came out highly motivated, knowing that a loss in regulation would all but kill their season. And then they suddenly found themselves in the game after David Legwand scored a very Legwand sort of goal. Kevin Klein tried to hit Leggy with a bomb pass, but it tipped off #11’s stick in the neutral zone; the puck went in on Corey Crawford at high speed, and when he tried to cover up Legwand skated by and poked at it with his stick, putting it away at 3:56 to make the score 2-1.
Nashville kept up the pressure and with it tied the game at 7:26. On a failed zone clear, Patric Hornqvist came away with the puck and broke in on Crawford. He dished left to Taylor Beck, who fired on goal. Crawford made the initial save, but Beck put away the rebound to make it a 2-2 game.
The Preds continued to play well throughout the third, outshooting Chicago 15-9. And Pekka Rinne continued to shine, too, stopping every shot put on him during the period to force overtime. He played well there, too, stopping another four shots to take the game to a shootout.
Pekka wasn’t able to win the game there, but he did keep the Preds alive after biting hard on Jonathan Toews’ deke in the first round. Two big saves set up, plus a Craig Smith score to tie it in the second round, sent it to sudden death. The game ended when Michal Rozsival scored in the fifth round and Taylor Beck couldn’t match.
Pekka Rinne saved 38 of the 40 shots he faced tonight, including some real show-stoppers in the second period. If any of those had gone in I don’t think the Preds could have come back. All credit to the giant Finn for doing everything he could to extend a lifeline to his teammates.
- David Legwand looked pretty good tonight. He scored that extra-effort goal in the third period to give the team a spark, and three and a half minutes later he came up with the takeaway that led to Taylor beck’s goal. That five points for Leggy in his last five games.
- I love watching Taylor Beck play. The kid only has one gear and it’s labeled “go.” Even his goal tonight came on a second effort. That Coach Trotz went with him in the final round of the shootout showed confidence in his game, which says a lot considering he hasn’t been here very long at all.
- Gabriel Bourque left the game with an upper body injury and didn’t return. Dan Carcillo laid a pretty nasty hit on him in the first period, apparently leaving his feet and targeting Bourque’s head. Preds fans – and fans of safer hockey in general – will wait to see whether the league takes a longer look at a pretty dangerous play.
- The Nashville Predators’ terrible, terrible penalty killing unit managed to kill all three Blackhawks power plays tonight, including the bulk of a double minor served by Patric Hornqvist.
- Paul Gaustad was given a coincidental roughing minor in the second after Andrew Shaw took a few swipes at him. Gaustad’s crime? Apparently just being on the ice. He talked plenty but never made a move toward Shaw. Nashville Predators color commentator Terry Crisp suggested that Gaustad might as well have taken a few shots at Shaw if the refs were going to lock him up anyway – a sentiment I find myself agreeing with.
- They might not have pulled off a win, but picking up a point was a good start for Nashville, who face Chicago twice more in the next week and once again before the season is done. Unfortunately, this was probably the weakest the Hawks will be for the rest of the season. I’m not prepared to say it’s all downhill from here, but it’s definitely going to be a major struggle to earn more points from Chicago.
- Colorado’s next up, tomorrow evening at seven. It’s the Nashville Predators’ last chance to earn points against the worst team in the Western Conference.