By Seth Lake
While the Nashville Predators were up in Detroit on Friday night securing the 500th win in franchise history against the Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks were sitting in Nashville awaiting their arrival looking to avenge a 6-1 defeat last Sunday night on national television, clinch their spot in the playoffs, and keep their hopes of the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference alive.
Hornqvist routinely takes a beating for the opposition in front of the net
In spite of acknowledging all of that during their pregame remarks, the Predators came out flat on Saturday night and dug themselves a 4-0 hole less than halfway through the contest on the backs of two power play goals against, a breakaway, and an unlucky bounce before they flipped their switch and fought all the way back to tie the contest at 4-4 in less than a period. Just as quickly, however, Chicago recaptured all the momentum taking advantage of a break in the Predators defense to retake the lead and held on from there for the victory to clinch their spot in the playoffs and make it a three-team race for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage that goes along with it.
- Too many penalties – Coming into the game, in the month of March the Predators had allowed their opponents an average of just 2 power-plays per game. However, last Sunday in Chicago they allowed the Blackhawks four power-play opportunities in their 6-1 win and the trend continued with Nashville giving up six power-play advantages to the struggling Blackhawks power play on Saturday night that was 3 for 36 (8.3%) in their last 10 games. The Blackhawks took advantage taking an early 1-0 lead in the first period when Patrick Sharp banked one in off of Hal Gill just 3:25 into the contest and seizing control of the second period right out of the gates converting on a power play carrying over from the first period when Marian Hossa hit Dave Bolland with a pass across the crease to give Chicago a two-goal lead. The Predators penalty-kill finished 4 for 6 on the night, ending a streak of 10 consecutive kills they had entering the game.
- Power play goes to work – After allowing Chicago to build momentum off the Predators first power-play of the night, leading to Patrick Kane’s breakaway goal just 0:14 after the successful kill, the No. 1 ranked power-play unit in the NHL came to life. With Bolland in the box for interference, Mike Fisher won the faceoff to begin Nashville’s second advantage back to Ryan Suter who gave it to Martin Erat standing on the right boards. Seeing a screen from Patric Hornqvist in front of Corey Crawford, Erat stepped into a seam in the Chicago defense and fired a wrister through traffic to get the Predators on the board and begin their charge back. With Bolland in the box a second time for boarding Erat behind the Chicago net, the Predators power-play again took advantage with Ryan Suter feeding Shea Weber for a blast from the right point through a screen from Alexander Radulov in front of Crawford to complete the comeback and tie the score at 4-4.
- Radulov leads comeback – While only getting credit on the scoresheet for one of the Predators final three goals of the night, Radulov was a driving force behind all three. With the comeback in its infancy, Radulov set the first of two perfect screens allowing Weber’s wrist shot through traffic to beat Crawford just 49 seconds after Erat’s power-play goal in the second period. Radulov put the team onto highlight reels across the nation for the second consecutive night with the Predators third goal early in the third period when he took a quick one-touch pass from David Legwand at the Chicago blue line recognized the gap between the defensemen, deked to the middle of the ice to split the defense and then got Crawford to bite on a forehand fake before roofing it into the back of the net on his backhand and giving the whole team a huge confidence boost in regards to their comeback bid. On his next shift in the third period, Radulov went to the front of the net again, setting a perfect screen on Crawford and never allowing him to see the shot coming from Weber at the point. Special players are able to make things happen with and without the puck on their stick. Radulov is a special player. While only getting credit on the scoresheet for 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in his first 6 games back, it hasn’t been lost that he’s been the Predators best player at the offensive end of the ice since his return.
- Chicago answers – After watching their 4-0 lead evaporate in 16:52 leaving 40-year old defenseman Sean O’Donnell patting Crawford on the pads with words of encouragement after Weber tied the score with 12:50 remaining in the third period, the Blackhawks wasted no time taking back the lead on the first chance they had. Controlling the puck off a dump-in, Andrew Shaw hit Brent Seabrook pinching backdoor for the game-winning goal just 1:09 after the Predators had tied the game. After pinching all the way down into the corner to support the recovery effort on the dump-in, Seabrook and Legwand got tangled up as they moved out of the corner causing Legwand to go down, recognizing that he was open, Seabrook stopped his retreat to the blue line and crashed the net for the game-winning goal. While the Predators generated more chances at the net, they were unable to beat Crawford allowing Seabrook’s goal to stand as the game-winner.
- Milestone goals – On Weber’s game-tying goal, his second goal of the night, three milestones were reached. First, with his second assist of the night, Legwand became the first Predator to reach 500 points in their career (187 goals, 383 assists). Second, with his third assist of the night and 39th of the season, Ryan Suter set a new career-high in assists for a single-season. And last, but not least with his power-play goal, Weber tied Kimmo Timonen for the franchise record in power-play goals in a career at 46 goals. With his second period power-play goal, Erat set a new career high in points (58) besting his 2006-07 and 2007-08 campaigns.
- Playoff-style officiating? – As the season has wound down to its final week, the Predators have seen a drop in penalties called by officials and a more playoff like “let them play” vibe emerge. Nowhere is this more present than at the opponent’s net where Patric Hornqvist has taken routine beating from opposing players and goaltenders alike for setting screens and battling for loose pucks in the crease. While Hornqvist feeds off of it and usually has a smile on his face up to a point, how Paul Gaustad could be the only one heading to the box for defending Hornqvist after Crawford and all 5 Blackhawks attacked him midway through the first period last night is baffling. At the start of the second period as the teams came onto the ice, Predators head coach Barry Trotz called one of the referees over to the bench expressing his dissatisfaction about something in the first period. As the referee skated away and Trotz climbed back over the bench, Hornqvist turned around with a smile on his face and tapped Trotz on the shins with his stick. It was a nice gesture from the player acknowledging his appreciation for his coach battling in the trenches for his team.
- Bench shortened – After being on the ice for the Blackhawks 4th goal of the night 8:35 into the second period, Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo didn’t see the ice again as the Predators rolled three lines for the remainder of the game with only Gaustad seeing a handful of shifts usually to take the faceoff. While the line had a good game on Friday night at Detroit, they weren’t able to build any positive momentum for the team on Saturday. Tootoo finished with a team-low 4:00 of ice time, while Halischuk saw just 5:06, and Gaustad 11:14 overall. In response to the Predators shortening their bench, Chicago did the same limiting Jimmy Hayes to a game-low 2:55, Brandon Bollig to 3:19 and Jamal Mayers to 5:29.
Starts and Stops
- A key stat to keep in mind as we head into the final games of the regular season is that when the Predators score first, they are 32-3-4, but when allowing the first goal as they did Saturday night, they are just 13-23-4. This season’s roster has shown on multiple occasions, including last night that they can come back from a deficit, but falling behind early takes them away from their brand of Predator Hockey and forces them to expend a lot of energy just to get things back on track.
- The Predators were outshot for the 42nd time this season (37-33), but fell in regulation for just the 8th time this season when outshot. When being outshot by their opponent the Predators are 30-8-4.
- With their final game of the regular season in the books against their Central Division foes, the Predators claimed the best record among the Central Division teams going 16-5-3 on the season. The Predators won their season series vs. Chicago with a 4-1-1 record.
- Nashville dominated in the faceoff circle on Saturday night winning 42 of 62 total draws (68%). Gaustad (14-4, 78%) and Fisher (14-6, 70%) lead the way for the Predators with all four centers finishing over 50% and Erat going 2 for 2 on faceoffs himself. Sergei Kostitsyn lost his only draw of the night.
- For just the second time this season, the Predators sold standing room only tickets to Saturday night’s game vs. Chicago. While the official attendance on the scoresheet reads a capacity crowd of 17,113, the actual attendance was greater than that and helped contribute to a raucous atmosphere in the arena.