CHICAGO – It was one of those pretty goals and it won a game in overtime for the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night, but Marian Hossa's one-time blast was bigger than the two points it earned his team.
The goal, which beat Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne 52 seconds into OT to give Chicago a 5-4 win, also meant the Blackhawks can still be dangerous on the power play. Despite a lingering 0-for-19 slump in man-advantages prior to the game, the Blackhawks (34-5-4) scored two power-play goals in just three opportunities against the Predators.
Duncan Keith scored a power-play goal early in the game to end a drought that dated to March 29. The Hawks have been spending extra time in practice working on their power play and had hoped to see marked improvement before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I felt like the puck was moving much better [in power-play work] during the last practices and that was the key," said Hossa, who's scored goals in three straight games and four of the past five. "We had a good feeling coming into the game. If we got the chance, we knew we were supposed to score a goal."
Hossa's came during 4-on-3 advantage after Nashville's Rich Clune picked up a double minor for high-sticking with 45 seconds left in regulation.
Patrick Kane fired a perfect pass to Hossa that went tape-to-tape and circle-to-circle for a one-timer from near the right faceoff dot that Rinne had no chance to stop.
The victory put Chicago six points up on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the race for the Presidents' Trophy; both teams have five games left to play. The Blackhawks, however, are more interested in getting their power play cranked up for the postseason.
"We are winning even without the power play being good, but we know coming into the playoffs we're going to need it," Hossa said. "There's going to be some times, or most times, [when the power play] is the deciding moment."
That turned out to be the case on Friday night, which was anything but a typical game between the Central Division rivals. Rather than a low-scoring, defensive battle dominated by goaltending, the Blackhawks and Predators kept the scoreboard operator busy.
Matt Halischuk led Nashville with two goals and added an assist for a three-point night, while rookie Kevin Henderson and Bobby Butler scored the other two for the Predators (15-21-9) – who broke a seven-game pointless streak but haven't won since April 2 against the Colorado Avalanche.
Rinne (25 saves) took the loss and has allowed 10 goals in the past two games. The nine combined goals in this game also gave Chicago television play-by-play broadcaster Pat Foley plenty to talk about during an evening celebrating his 30th season calling Blackhawks games.
It didn't take long after Foley's pre-game ceremony concluded for the red lights to start flashing –Keith opened the scoring 4:48 into the game with his first goal since March 16.
The fact that it broke that looming power-play drought seemed even bigger than the 1-0 lead it provided – coming off a broken play in the Nashville zone after Viktor Stalberg slid a pass to Keith in the slot with Rinne out of position.
"It's an area that we know we can work on," Keith said of the power play. "There are areas in our game that we can just keep getting better at, but the power play sticks out because it's specialty teams and they're important in playoffs as we go along. At the end of the day, though, winning hockey games comes down to out-battling [teams] and winning one-on-one battles during 5-on-5. All year long we've done a good job at that and the penalty kill's been great. It's been our staple and gotten us to where we are."
Saad also scored for Chicago in the first, while Halischuk and Henderson – making his NHL debut – found the back of the net for the Predators. Nashville stormed back to take a 2-1 lead, but Saad knotted it up with 6:24 left in the period with his 10th goal of the season.
After a nice set-up pass by Jonathan Toews near the half wall in the left circle, Saad fired the puck past Rinne on the short side from the slot – after his initial pass attempt to Hossa was blocked. The puck kicked back to him for the shot and the talented 20-year-old rookie buried it.
The teams also matched each other in the second with a goal each. Kane notched his 21st of the season at 9:20 to share the team lead with Toews and Halischuk put home his own rebound off a mini-break at 12:31 to tie it 3-3.
Handzus put Chicago up 4-3 midway through the third with his first goal since being acquired by the Blackhawks before the NHL's Trade Deadline, but Nashville battled back again when Butler tied it 4-4 with 3:34 left in regulation.
That led to overtime, but not before Clune's four-minute penalty put the Predators in a bad spot -- heading into OT on a penalty kill. Hossa made sure Chicago swept the five-game season series against Nashville, which has been a thorn in the Hawks' side the past few seasons.
"Guys battled back tonight," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "[We were] trailing and always kept battling back, battling back and we found a way to put ourselves in a position to win. And then we take a penalty that's unnecessary. A sloppy stick, the four-minute power play -- and away we went."
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