The Nashville Predators played toe to toe with the Chicago Blackhawks for two periods and then scored four unanswered goals in the third period as they charged to a 4-1 win at the United Center on Friday night.
J.P. Dumont scored the first two goals for the Predators before Jerred Smithson and and Mart Erat added empty netters in the last minute of play. Patrick Kane scored the Hawks lone goal halfway through the second stanza.
Pekka Rinne stood tall in the Preds net in gaining his first playoff win as he stopped 25 of 26 Blackhawk shots. Antti Niemi stopped 22 of 24 shots while taking the loss.
Both the Preds and Hawks came out at the start of the game with plenty of energy. Kevin Klein was called for hooking 52 seconds into the contest and the collective heart of Pred's fans sank with the thought of a quick Blackhawk power play goal. Fortunately, the Predator penalty kill unit held firm.
For the remainder of the period, both teams skated well and pushed the puck at both ends of the ice. The stars of the period were Pekka Rinne and Antti Niemi who repelled everything that went toward the net. Pekka was outstanding on a breakaway by Patrick Sharp.
The Hawks out shot the Preds 10-7 and led in the Corsi numbers 23-16. The Hawks out hit the Preds 15-11 and took 12 of 20 face offs.
The Predators had their first man advantage at 5:17 in the second period when Troy Brouwer up-ended Pekka Rinne. The Hawks out-shot the Preds 2-1 while the Preds were on the PP.
The Pred's power play was cut short at 7:07 on a phantom slashing call against Cody Franson. The Predators penalty kill held firm as the Hawks only had one shot on net during their man advantage.
After a turnover in the neutral zone, Patrick Kane scored the games first goal at 9:43 when Rinne stopped Kane's initial shot on the rush and then dropped the puck in to the blue ice where Kane swept it into the net.
As the period wore down, the pace of play seemed to slow down a bit and neither team could score despite several chances. Chicago out shot the Preds 12-6 for the period and led the Corsi 28-16.
As the third period started, the Predators were in need of a quick goal to change the complexion of the game. After Steve Sullivan hit the cross bar at 1:00, J. P. Dumont flipped an odd knuckler at the Hawks net and Niemi was baffled as it took an odd bounce into the net to tie the game 1-1.
At the end of one of the Pred's best few minutes of play in recent memory, J. P. Dumont took a pass from David Legwand and put it past Niemi at 10:37 to put the Preds ahead 2-1.
After furious play at both ends as time wound down, the Hawks pulled Niemi and could not keep the Preds out of the Hawks zone and Jerred Smithson responded with an empty netter at 19:12. After the face off and another goalie pull, Marty Erat scored the Pred's second empty netter at 19:46 to give the Preds a 4-1 victory.
In the third period, the Preds out shot the Hawks 13-4 and dominated possession as indicated by the 25-12 Corsi advantage. For the game, shots were tied at 26.
Storylines From The Game
Predators Out Play Hawks When It Counted...
For about five minutes leading up to J.P. Dumont's second goal and then for the remainder of the game, the Predators played as if they were were possessed, dominating play at both ends of the ice.
Playing a type of modified trap, the Preds clogged up the neutral zone and swarmed in the defensive end as they completely shut down the Chicago offense in a way that was not anticipated.
Pekka Rinne Starred in His First Playoff Game...
After many had questioned how Pekka Rinne and Antti Niemi would perform in their first post-season game, both goalies played well enough to win. Niemi was hand-cuffed by an odd bounce on the Preds first goal. If not for that, the game could still be ongoing.
Pekka Rinne continued his stellar play that we saw after the Olympic break. His only miscue was when a puck that he stopped between his pad and glove fell free for an easy Patrick Kane goal. That was a mere blip on the radar compared to the many outstanding saves Rinne made as the last line of defense.
Playoff Demons Were Exorcised...
The past demon of never winning a road game during the Stanley Cup Playoffs was finally exorcised with the Pred's win in Chicago on Friday night. The burden being lifted should lead to many more wins in the near future.
Also, for the first time in five playoff series, Barry Trotz stuck to the same type game plan that the team practiced for 82 games. There were no new line combinations or odd parings to match up with the other team.
The team played Predator hockey and took it directly to the Hawks. They weren't rattled when they fell behind and stuck to their game plan until it finally paid off.
Notes from the Game...
Word at the end of the game was that Patric Hornqvist left the game with 10:31 left in the game and was unable to return. I did not observe what happened so it is difficult to access the injury. He played 13:01 on 21 shifts and never looked comfortable on the ice as he did not log a shot.
David Legwand and Steve Sullivan played one of the best games each have played recently. Legwand had two assists and had a team high five shots and was a leader in the defensive effort. Sullivan's deft puck handling in the third period was a key in the Pred's puck possession game.
Game two will be Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. CDT at the United Center.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass