The Nashville Predators (5-0-2) played host to the Chicago Blackhawks (4-1-1) on Thursday night, and the Nashville fans witnessed something very special.
As I am sure a lot of you are wondering, the Blackhawks were a plenty inside Bridgestone Arena. If i had to make an estimate about the amount of Predators fans versus Blackhawks fans in attendance I would say it was around 65/35 Predators fans.
Right from the opening puck drop the game got off to a fantastic start. High-paced – back and forth hockey was seen for the entire opening period.
The first highlight of the night came with around eight-minutes remaining in the first period as the Predators had their best shift of the season. The shift of the year included forwards Craig Smith, Derek Roy, and Colin Wilson along with defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi. This group held the puck in the Chicago zone for close to an entire minute, putting a bevy of shots on Blackhawk netminder Antti Raanta. The sustained offensive pressure did not result in a goal, but it was mighty impressive and definitely showed the momentum was in the Predators’ corner.
The Predators would answer, and they would answer in style. James Neal received a pass from defenseman Seth Jones, coasted into a prime scoring position, and netted a wicked wrist-shot to knot the game up at one goal a piece with less than a minute remaining in the opening period. That tally was Neal’s third goal of the season and his second goal in two games; it was also a prime example of that wrist-shot and scoring ability he was brought to deliver in Nashville. More James Neal would come later.
The Predators held a 14-6 shot advantage over the Blackhawks at the end of the opening period.
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The second period would start off in the exact opposite fashion of the first. The flow of the game wasn’t that back and forth type hockey seen in the first, and a bit sloppy from zone to zone.
The Predators found themselves on the power play 8:36 into the period, but the struggling Nashville power play created virtually no chances to put the puck in the back of the net. After failing to capitalize on the opportunity, the Predators found themselves on the other side of the script in having to kill off a Mattias Ekholm penalty four and a half minutes later.
Chicago had a number of chances to take the lead on the power play chance, seeing the Predators only managed to clear the puck once and didn’t manage to get a stoppage of play. Chicago held the puck in their zone the entire time, but the penalty-killing unit with Pekka Rinne behind them closed the door. This was easily one of the more impressive penalty-kills of Nashville’s young season.
With under four-minutes remaining in the period, Neal would strike again. A slow moving puck found its way to Neal wide-open in the slot and this time Neal would wind up and send a scorcher of a slap-shot into the top corner of the net for his second goal on the night. Filip Forsberg would be credited with the assist.
The scoring stood at 2-1 after two periods, and the Predators remained ahead in the shots on goal category at 21-15.
The third period would hold something special to come; something you don’t see very often.
Neal put home a rebound just under two-minutes into the third period to record a natural hat-trick. The rebound came from a Ryan Ellis shot, giving Neal a wide-open net to poke the puck home. Neal went pointless through the first three games of this season, now he has five-goals through seven games for his new team in Nashville.
Neal spoke about the game tonight and how the win was a little bit of redemption following Nashville’s loss in Chicago this past Saturday, saying “Coming on to a new team, you want to do so well. We just have to wait for our chances. Everything kind of fell into place tonight. It was a big game tonight. We didn’t like the way we ended against Chicago last game. We got a little redemption tonight. I think we played well.”
Here is Neal’s hat-trick sealing goal:
Chicago, of course, wouldn’t go away easy. Andrew Shaw lit the lamp for the Blackhawks with 7:24 to play in regulation. Chicago would send a barrage of pucks in Pekka Rinne’s direction with the remaining time left in the game, but Pekka would stand strong.
Chicago would out shoot Nashville 17-6 in the final period, which would give them the outright lead in that category at the end of the night, 32-27. But, at the end of the night, the Predators took the victory, making them the only team in the NHL with no regulation losses to their record.
The Predators sit a top the Central Division standings, with a three-point lead over the Blackhawks they defeated on Thursday.
Predators’ Stats on the night:
Goals – James Neal (3,4,5)
Assists – Seth Jones (3), Mike Ribeiro (3), Ryan Ellis (4), Filip Forsberg (5,6)
Pekka Rinne: 30 stops on 32 shots, .938 save-percentage. 5-0-1
Roll the film:
Nashville plays host to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, 7 p.m. CST.