Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 4/7/13
Rookie Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews scored 55 seconds apart midway through the third period, and the Chicago Blackhawks rallied to beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 on Sunday night to become the first team to clinch a NHL playoff spot this season. Chicago (29-5-4) had fallen behind 3-2 early in the third on a goal by David Legwand, but Saad and Toews connected against Pekka Rinne to put the Blackhawks back ahead. The Blackhawks defeated the Predators for the second time in two days and improved to 13-0-1 against Central Division teams. Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell also scored for Chicago, and Patrick Kane added an empty-net goal. Shea Weber and Nick Spaling each had a goal and an assist for the Predators (15-17-8), who are 13th in the Western Conference with 38 points, five behind eighth-place Detroit at the postseason cutoff. Chicago's Ray Emery stopped 19 shots, following a 20-save, 1-0 win at Nashville on Saturday. The Blackhawks improved to 4-0 against the Predators this season. Rinne, who leads the NHL in games and minutes played, made 35 saves as he appeared in his 29th straight contest. Both teams skated without key forwards. Nashville left wing Gabriel Bourque, who is tied with Legwand for the team lead with 11 goals, missed his fourth game because of an upper body injury. Mike Fisher, third on the Predators with 19 points, sat out after aggravating a hand injury that caused him to miss three games last week. Patrick Sharp, who led the Blackhawks with 33 goals last season, missed his 14th game with a shoulder injury. Dave Bolland sat out his second because of a lower body injury, believed to have been caused when a shot by Weber struck him last Monday. The Blackhawks killed off the only penalty against them on Sunday and have snuffed 17 straight chances. Chicago hasn't allowed a power-play goal in 10 games, dating to March 18. The Blackhawks entered the game as the third-least penalized team in the NHL, training the New York Islanders and Rangers. Shaw opened the scoring 6:34 in on a tip-in. Michael Frolik jumped on a rebound that Rinne had deflected to the left boards, then turned and fired on goal in one motion. Shaw, who had slipped behind defenseman Roman Josi and parked in front, deflected the puck over Rinne's shoulder. The Blackhawks dominated the first period, outshooting the Predators 17-7. But a turnover by defenseman Johnny Oduya in the slot set off a scramble that led to Spaling's goal that made it 1-1 with 2:44 left. After Oduya couldn't handle a pass from Toews, Sergei Kostitsyn grabbed the loose puck and shot from a sharp angle to the right of the net. Emery stopped that attempt, but Spaling fired in the rebound before Emery could recover. Bickell, who scored Chicago's only goal on Saturday, put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1 at 2:09 of the second. Weber tied it at 2 just over three minutes later, when he fired from the top of the right circle directly from a faceoff win by Spaling. Weber's high screened shot beat Emery on the stick side. Legwand scored on a rebound to put Nashville ahead 3-2 at 6:54 of the third to cap a scrum around the Chicago net. Emery stopped Weber's shot from right wing and Matt Halischuk stuff-in attempt from the left side, but Legwand popped in a loose puck from the crease. Saad tied it at 3 at 9:37 from 10 feet. After fanning on a first shot attempt, defenseman Duncan Keith swept in and fired a shot that Rinne blocked. Saad converted the rebound. Toews put Chicago ahead 4-3 at 10:32. Kane outraced two Predators to a loose puck on the back boards, then centered to Toews, who connected on a low shot from the right circle. Kane's goal with 32 seconds left completed the scoring. NOTES: Before the game, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said that Sharp could return this week. When asked about Bolland's condition, he said, ''We don't think it's serious.'' . The Predators have made the playoffs the past three seasons and in seven of eight. . Nashville Center Paul Gaustad missed a second game with an upper body injury. ... Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, who played for the Blackhawks and worked in their front office, attended the game.
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