By defeating the Nashville Predators in the opening game of a home-and-home Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks ensured they would retain the Central Division lead at the end of the weekend regardless of what happened in the rematch Sunday.
By coming from behind in a wild third period to win again at the United Center, they sent a clear message about which team is the one to beat in this race.
Patrick Kane scored his second of the night with 43.4 seconds remaining and John Madden tallied a pair of third-period goals as the Blackhawks rallied from a 2-1 deficit and blew a 4-2 lead before finally claiming a 5-4 win over the Predators in the final regular-season meeting of the season between the teams.
At 26-9-3, Chicago opened up an eight-point cushion over Nashville in the Central.
"We've had some amazing games, some spectacular endings, and tonight was one of them," coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's all about finding a way to win. You win in different ways. I don't recall giving up a two-goal lead late, and finding a way to circumvent it was pretty impressive."
A pair of defensemen, Dan Hamhuis and Cody Franson, put point shots past Antti Niemi in a 57-second span to tie the score with 3:25 remaining and temporarily stun the Blackhawks.
But with the game seemingly headed for overtime, Kane took a shot from the right circle that Predators goalie Dan Ellis stopped. Troy Brouwer collected the rebound and got the puck back to Kane, and he wristed a shot over Ellis for the decisive goal.
"I fired it on net and it kind of hit the top shelf. It was one of those close-your-eyes-and-shoot plays … but it went in," said Kane, who played his 200th career game. "We got four points (this weekend) and they got none. So it's almost like an eight-point weekend for us, and we put some distance between us and them."
It was a frustrating result for Nashville, which led after 40 minutes on goals by Marcel Goc and Martin Erat early in the first and second periods.
"These were two huge games coming off Christmas break," Ellis said. "Everyone was pretty well-rested. When you have opportunities against a division rival, you want to make sure you win those. We had a chance … and we lost it."
Madden tied the score at 2-2 when Andrew Ladd sent him in on a breakaway at 6:40 and he backhanded a shot past Ellis. The veteran nicknamed "Master Yoda" by his teammates scored again at 12:12 for his first multi-goal game with the Blackhawks.
"The youth in the room has made me feel young again," the 36-year-old Madden said. "At first it was a little intimidating because I wasn't getting the jokes. I get them now. It's been fun."
Brian Campbell beat Ellis on a power play 81 seconds later for a 4-2 lead and, "it looked like we were in a pretty good spot," Quenneville said. "But it changed quickly."
Nashville needed this game, and it showed in the way the Predators came out. Goc deflected a Franson shot past Niemi just 1:35 into the game. Kane got the Blackhawks even at the 6:55 mark, but Erat scored his team-high 14th of the season off a rebound 47 seconds into the middle period.
After being critical of his team's effort in losing at home Saturday, Nashville coach Barry Trotz had kinder words following this defeat.
"It was 4-2 and we could have been dead in the water, but we didn't back off," Trotz said. "We stayed persistent on the puck and we got it back. I give our guys a lot of credit, down 4-2 with seven minutes to go against a very good Chicago team that plays so well defensively."
Material from wire services was used in this report.
1 - 0 NSH
Wrist shot -
1 - 1 Tie
Snap shot -
2 - 1 NSH
Backhand shot -
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 CHI
4 - 2 CHI