Three Chicago Blackhawk goals in game’s first 10:01 proved to be the difference, as the Nashville Predators suffered their first regulation defeat in the last nine games against the Hawks, a 5-2 decision on Wednesday night at the United Center. The Predators now head home from a three-game road trip having lost five straight games and seven of their last eight.
The one bright spot for the Preds in the Windy City was the play of both the power play and penalty kill. Nashville scored two power-play goals for the first time since Nov. 10, a span of 16 games, and the penalty killers have successfully extinguished 38 of the last 40 chances against.
The first Chicago goal came just 3:02 into the contest when a pair of Predators defenders got caught chasing the puck behind the net. The extra space in the slot allowed Robert Lang to spring loose, and one time a centering pass by goalie Chris Mason.
Just 2:23 later, another innocent-looking Blackhawk rush produced a goal thanks to a savvy individual play by rookie Dustin Byfuglien. Being pushed to the outside by Ryan Suter, Byfuglien, who has seen time at both forward and defense this season, simply headed behind the Nashville net with speed, and tucked the puck into the opposite side.
Head coach Barry Trotz used his lone time out of the contest following the quick tallies, and also made a change in net, summoning Mason to the bench and sending Dan Ellis into the game.
Fortunes did not change for the Predators though, as Patrick Sharp gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead with his league-leading sixth shorthanded goal of the season at the 10:01 mark of the opening frame. Sixteen seconds after Chicago blueliner Brent Seabrook was sent to the sin bin for cross-checking, another rookie, Jonathan Toews, entered the Nashville zone and laid a drop pass off for Sharp. With players crossing 10 feet in front of him, Sharp ripped a laser from just inside the blue line that snuck in the net’s top corner, far side.
The Predators stabilized following the third marker, but simply wanted to get out of the first. They were outshot by the Blackhawks by an 11-6 margin in the opening 20 minutes.
The second period saw the Predators come out with an extra jump in their step, earning a couple of early scoring chances and drawing their second power play of the game with just 55 seconds expired.
Martin Erat maintains possession of the puck along the boards as Brent Sopel applies pressure from behind.
For the third time in four games, the Preds had a goal disallowed on the ensuing power play. At 1:26 Alexander Radulov redirected a point shot by Dan Hamhuis into the net, but officials ruled the puck was played with a high stick, and the call stood after a lengthy review.
Chicago reclaimed the contest’s momentum just 20 seconds after the man-advantage opportunity expired, once again getting a goal from the Lang-Havlat connection at 3:15. The play was again the product of a one timer by Lang, but this time, Havlat set him up at the top of the right face-off circle.
Frustration led to success for the visitors though, as the Predators took full advantage of a four-minute double minor for high sticking to Yanic Perrault at the 3:44 mark, just 2:18 after the disallowed goal.
The first of two power-play goals came just like the two tallies Nashville scored a night ago at Minnesota – by crashing the crease and picking up rebounds. J.P. Dumont did the honors for his second marker in as many games at 4:27, stuffing a shot by Marek Zidlicky past a sprawling Nikolai Khabibulin. Jason Arnott was also effective in driving to the net, and picked up his third point in two games with a helper.
A mere 1:10 later, the Predators struck again to cut the Chicago lead to 4-2 in the second half of the Perreault penalty. This time, a deflection off a shot fired into traffic in front of Khabibulin counted, as Shea Weber unleashed a howitzer from the point that hit Radek Bonk en route to the back of the net.
Two power-play goals in its first four attempts of game gave Nashville three man-advantage markers in its seven attempts dating going back to the second period against the Wild.
Late penalties to Radulov and Vernon Fiddler put the Preds in a tough spot in the waning minutes of the second, having to kill a 3-on-5 disadvantage of 61 seconds starting at 16:59. The killers held their own and took care of the first penalty, but the second infraction ultimately doomed them, as Sharp netted his second of the game at 18:55, just four seconds before Fiddler was set to come back on the ice.
Nikolai Khabibulin stymies a chance by Radek Bonk, as Martin Gelinas looks to pounce on a rebound.
The 5-on-4 Chicago goal that made it 5-2 ended an impressive run for the Nashville penalty kill. Before the goal, it had extinguished 23 straight power plays against, and 23 consecutive power plays on the road dating back to Nov. 19 in St. Louis. The road mark is good for second in franchise history.
Content to sit on its three-goal lead, Chicago put defense first in the final frame of regulation, consciously picking its spots to attack while keeping Nashville at bay in its attempts for a comeback.
Scoring chances were few and far between in the third period of the third meeting of 2007-08 between the Preds and Hawks, and neither team produced a goal. Chicago claimed an 11-4 shot advantage in the final 20 minutes, and a 30-21 edge for the contest.
The Predators now come home where they will start another set of back-to-back games, playing Los Angeles on Saturday night at the Sommet Center and Columbus on Sunday evening at Nationwide Arena. Tickets to Saturday’s game are still available by calling (615) 770-PUCK, logging on to nashvillepredators.com or ticketmaster.com and by visiting the Sommet Center Box office located in the arena tower.
Game Notes: Nashville scratched Ville Koistinen, Kevin Klein and Jerred Smithson from the lineup, while Chicago sat Magnus Johansson, Sergei Samsonov and David Koci… Tonight’s game in Chicago was the 500th of the 2007-08 NHL schedule… Radek Bonk added to his team-leading goals (11) and power-play goals (5) total with the tally… The power play finished 2-for-5, while Chicago went 1-for-5… Nashville is now 1-2-0 on the back-end of games on back-to-back nights this season… Alexander Radulov has six points (2g-4a) in three games this season against Chicago, while Jason Arnott has four points in those three outings… Marek Zidlicky has six assists in nine games, and leads all Preds d-men in points with 16… Shea Weber doled out a team-high four hits, while David Legwand was the best Predator in the face-off circle, winning seven of 10 draws (70%)… These teams meet for the next time in exactly one week – the day after Christmas – again at the United Center.
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