NASHVILLE – Since arriving from the minors on Dec. 26, Predators rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis had only been out of the lineup twice in 21 games.
The second of those came in Nashville's game against Boston Saturday, when the 21-year-old – last season's Ontario Hockey League player of the year – made a few too many turnovers and high-risk plays for the liking of coach Barry Trotz.
On Tuesday, Ellis returned with a vengeance, picking up the game-winning goal and a primary assist as Nashville snapped a three-game losing streak and extended Chicago's losing streak to nine with a 3-2 win at Bridgestone Arena.
"The biggest thing for Ryan is he's a really smart player," Trotz said. "He thinks at a different level in the offensive part and even the defensive part he's pretty good. He got a little too cute. Therefore, that cuteness hasn't worked out for him as much.
"Today, I wanted him to keep it pretty simple and pretty smart. Make the right play, the good decision. Just be really, really accurate with what you're doing. He did a better job today and contributing offensively was huge."
Ellis scored the game-winner with 5:42 left in regulation when his slap shot from the right point deflected off the stick of Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith and through the legs of goalie Ray Emery.
The win pushed third-place Nashville's lead in the Central Division to seven points over fourth-place Chicago. During the Hawks' current slide, which has taken them from the League's top record on Jan. 20 to a tie for sixth in the Western Conference, Nashville has beaten them three times. The losing streak began with a 5-2 loss at Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 21.
It was also Chicago's 11th straight loss on the road, including all seven games on a nine-game trip that continues Thursday in New York.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said the loss was "disappointing in a lot of ways," but said he liked his team's urgency and wants to take the same attitude into the next game.
"This was a tough loss," Quenneville said. "Tonight it looked like we were doing the things we wanted to do and we were in the right direction. Maybe get it to overtime and see what happens, but that hurt."
Despite winning for just the second time in their last six games, Nashville has six points in that span (2-2-2). Trotz liked the emotion his team played with and said he thought the win would get them back on track.
Pekka Rinne made 30 saves for Nashville to earn his 31st win. Trotz said that Rinne made three "10-bell" saves early on to keep Nashville in it. One of them was a sliding glove save on Jonathan Toews' shot from the slot at 5:24 of the second period.
"It's a big deal, obviously, it's division games and those points, really, they make a big difference and I think that's a reason for our separation in the standings right now between our games," Rinne said. "Those games have been really crucial for us, but it's not going to get any easier. On Friday we're going to face a tough team in Detroit."
The game at Joe Louis Arena will certainly be a tall order. The Red Wings set an NHL record with its 21st straight home win on Tuesday.
Rinne gave a shy laugh when he was asked if he did not feel bad for Chicago, a team that eliminated Nashville from the 2010 playoffs in a tough six-game series en route to the Stanley Cup.
"No, you can't," Rinne said. "We still have a tough road ahead of us. I think that's the only thing I'm worried about is our own destiny."
Chicago's Marian Hossa tied the game 2-2 at 6:05 of the third period. From the right circle, Hossa wristed the puck between the legs of Preds rookie defenseman Roman Josi, and the puck deflected off Josi just inside the far post. Hossa has been dominant against Nashville this season, with three goals and seven points in four games.
The Predators moved ahead 2-1 at 17:21 of the second as Nick Spaling began the play with a faceoff win and then finished it with a goal.
Spaling deflected Ellis' slap shot past Emery for his eighth of the season. Colin Wilson retrieved the puck after the faceoff and then Jordin Tootoo set up Ellis just inside the blue line.
"The first one, Tootoo made a great play on the half wall," Ellis said. "He kind of took that forward away that usually covers me. It was just a good job by him. The second one, like I said, was just a fortunate bounce."
Nashville, which has the No. 2 power play in the League at 21.8 percent, has not been so successful in that area lately, and all three goals came at even strength. In the six preceding games the Preds' unit went 3-for-19 (15.8 percent) and failed on all three tries on Tuesday.
A mostly quiet first period ended with two goals 46 seconds apart, one by each team. Mike Fisher picked up Toews' turnover in Chicago's zone and started an odd-man situation. Sergei Kostitsyn, at the right circle, set up a fat pass for Ryan Suter, whose wrist shot beat Emery high to the glove side and rattled around inside the goal just over the line at 18:20.
Jamal Mayers started a break the other way to tie the game for the Hawks. He stopped just inside the blue line along the left wall and fed Bickell, who whipped a long wrister over Rinne's blocker at 19:06.
Trotz said the win was a "great response" from Nashville's last three games, which consisted of shootout losses to Vancouver and Boston sandwiched around a regulation loss at Ottawa.
"Tonight we thought our penalty killing had been struggling and wanted to get our power play going and it didn't really go tonight," Trotz said. "We had a couple of big penalty kills. We went three-for-three. We had one where guys were very desperate. Peks made a good save, but guys were diving and fully committed to keep it out of the net. That kind of response is what you want. To me, a division game, putting some distance between us and them is huge."
1 - 0 NSH
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NSH
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 NSH
Interference on goalkeeper