CHICAGO – It was a goal that Joel Ward had probably envisioned scoring all summer long, after he and the Nashville Predators were knocked out of the playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks and then watched them win the Stanley Cup.
Ward was on the ice last spring when Patrick Kane scored a game-tying goal with just 13.6 seconds left in regulation of what turned out to be a pivotal, improbable overtime win for the Blackhawks in Game 5 of their first-round series against Nashville.
On Wednesday night in the same building – Chicago's United Center – Ward and the Predators got a small measure of revenge with a 3-2 victory that was decided by Ward's power-play goal with 27 seconds left in regulation.
Did it feel good to get a little retribution for that Game 5 loss last spring, the last time Nashville had stepped foot in Chicago?
"It does," Ward said. "But it's the heat of the moment, and there's a lot of hockey going on. You don't really think about what happened a few months ago. We just kind of stayed focused on the task at hand, and that was concentrating on this game. We had a two-minute power play at the end and we just worried about capitalizing on it."
It was a power play that was largely rooted in luck, as Hawks defenseman Nick Boynton accidentally flipped the puck out of the rink for a delay of game penalty.
"I had the puck and just as I went to shoot it I think it rolled," Boynton said. "I thought it was flat on my stick and I guess I scooped it. It happens, unfortunately."
Ward made sure the Predators, now 2-0-0, left the building winners this time. He slid behind the Chicago defense on a broken play and redirected a feed from J-P Dumont into a wide-open net for his first goal of the season.
"It's good to just get two points and keep it moving," Ward said. "That's what we've been trying to focus on, is just trying to get two points and go onto the next one. We're just excited to get two points in this building. It was a good feeling for sure."
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews scored Chicago's goals, both coming in the first period against Nashville rookie goalie Anders Lindback – who won his first NHL start in place of injured starter Pekka Rinne. Lindback stopped 23 of 25 shots, including 15 straight after Toews' first goal of the season 16:58 into the first, made it 2-1 Chicago.
Lindback is playing his first season of hockey in North America after starting for two seasons in the Swedish Elite League.
"I didn't really think about the crowd too much, I just tried to play my game," he said. "Obviously, I had a lot of help from my teammates. I just felt good out there."
Crawford, also a rookie, looked good for the Hawks in his second straight start after picking up Chicago's only win thus far on Monday at Buffalo. He again played solidly against Nashville by stopping 24 of 27 shots, but came up one save short on a night the Hawks played without two of their top defensemen.
Brian Campbell (knee) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (two-game suspension) both sat out. In trying to make up for the loss of the Hawks' No. 2 defense pair, reigning Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith played extended minutes. He spent most of the night paired with rookie Nick Leddy.
Keith logged a whopping 28:28 of ice time, with 20:23 of it coming in the first two periods. Keith's usual partner, Brent Seabrook, played 19:39. The next highest amount of ice time behind Keith's logged by any player was 22:59 by Nashville defenseman Shane Weber.
Keith had to be dragging in the third, which could have been a big reason the Hawks attack didn't generate many scoring chances. Chicago was outshot 10-4 in the final period.
"You can't let any team in this league hang around," Boynton said. "They have good players. We have to bury teams. We just didn't capitalize on our chances. When you let it go down to the final two minutes anything can happen. They're a good team and play a good system, and they obviously took advantage of my mistake."
Lindback's night got off to a bumpy start when Kane scored for the second time in as many games on a power play just 4:48 into the first period. Kane also created the power play by drawing a hooking penalty on Ward.
After former Blackhawk Steve Sullivan tied it 1-1 less than two minutes later, Lindback allowed a low shot by Toews to get between his stick and right pad as he dropped to the ice with 3:02 left in the first. Chicago took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission and seemed poised to pepper Lindback with shots the rest of the way.
It didn't happen, as the young goalie kept Nashville within a goal through a scoreless second period. Colin Wilson then tied it 2-2 at 4:43 of the third by one-timing a shot in the slot that appeared to deflect off the stick of Hawks defenseman Jordan Hendry past Crawford.
That set the stage for Ward's late heroics, which sent the Hawks to a 1-2-1 start to the season.
"The way it ended was a disappointing loss, not coming out with at least one (point)," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We should have had some (points) in every game we've played this year, but tonight was the toughest one we had to deal with."
With Rinne sidelined with a lower-body injury, Lindback made his first NHL start with another rookie, Mark Dekanich, as his backup. It was the first time in nearly four years that a team played a game with two goaltenders , neither of whom had started an NHL game. The last team to do so was Anaheim, which beat Calgary 5-3 on Nov. 26, 2006, with Michael Wall in goal and David McKee as his backup.