Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Duchene and Colin Blackwell had first-period goals and the Predators hung on despite a strong comeback effort by the Blackhawks in the final 40 minutes of the game.
"They were better than us (in the first)," said winger Alex DeBrincat, who scored a third-period power-play goal to pull the Blackhawks to within 3-2. "They were ready to come out there. They've been struggling, too, so they were more ready than us. I think that's all it was. We gave up too many chances and they capitalized."
Dominik Kubalik also scored for the Blackhawks but it wasn't enough as Rinne finished with 29 saves to earn the victory in goal. Corey Crawford was the tough-luck loser, stopping 25 shots in defeat.
"I think the second and third were good but in the first period we didn't get a good enough start," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "But it's going to happen. They were ready to go and we just gave up some quality chances that even if you're not having your best period you've got to find a way to limit them. We didn't do that enough.
"I don't think it was a terrible (first) period to be honest with you," Toews added. "I just think we made some sloppy plays at key times and they capitalized on their chances. They did a good job of playing patient, not giving up too much against and we didn't quite do the same."
Nick Bonino and Rinne scored into the empty net to blow open a close game for the Predators.
"We dug ourselves a hole and ultimately we played really well in the last 40 minutes of the game, but we can't be satisfied with that," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Pretty disappointing because we wasted some really good efforts for some players … at the end of the game. But we need to start with that level and at least match what they brought."
Here are three takeaways from the Blackhawks' loss:
Thursday night's loss came on the heels of a defeat at the hands of the Flames on Tuesday night and again kept the Blackhawks (19-20-6) from gaining ground in the West.
"The last two teams we played the motivation is pretty obvious," Toews said. "Our opponents showed up and we haven't quite met the effort so we've got to be better.
"If we want to catch anybody these are must-win games," Toews added. "We knew that coming into the last couple games … and it's unfortunate to come up short."
The Blackhawks now trail the Predators by three points and the Jets by two in the Central Division standings. DeBrincat said if there isn't a sense of desperation in the Blackhawks' game, "we should have some. These are really important, especially at home. We dropped two games and we definitely have to come back Saturday (against the Ducks) and get a win. If we can do that hopefully it snowballs for us and we get some after that, some traction."
Colliton agreed the Blackhawks have to display more desperation, especially in the beginning of games.
"It's going to be tough to win the games we need to win if we don't find it." Colliton said. "That's how it is."
The Blackhawks' lineup got a boost by the return of Drake Caggiula. The forward played for the first time since suffering a concussion Nov. 13 that caused him to miss 27 consecutive games. Caggiula said he considered shutting down for the rest of the season but then went symptom-free and made his return.
"I never really wanted to sit out, but it was just something you kind of think about and you ponder," Caggiula said. "I'm happy to be healthy and be back in the lineup playing hockey, that's what I was born to do and I'm happy to be back."
Caggiula had four hits and two shots on goal in 11:13 of ice time against the Predators.
The concussion was not the first Caggiula suffered during his career and he was asked if he will change the way he plays.
"Yes and no, I guess," he said. "There are parts of my game where I know I can be a little bit smarter and protect myself a little bit more, but if I stray away from the player I am I probably won't be here. There's a fine line and I have to find a way to protect myself, but at the same time I've got to stay true to the player I am and keep playing the way I do because that's the reason why I'm here."
If one positive can be taken out of Caggiula's extended absence is that the veteran will have fresh legs for the stretch run of the season.
"We're over the halfway point of the season and a lot of guys are tired and run down and I'm kind of the opposite of that," Caggiula said. "Hopefully, I can provide a lot of energy and just a spark for the guys. Having a fresh body in the lineup is always a positive thing."
The Blackhawks were on the wrong end of some history when Rinne fired the puck from behind his goal line the length of the ice and into the empty net with 32 seconds remaining. The veteran became the 12th different goaltender in NHL history to score a goal and the first since Mike Smith on Oct. 19, 2013.
"It was good timing, I guess," Rinne said. "It was a two-goal lead and luckily the puck was flat on the ice and I was able to take a shot. I like to play the puck … (and) it's something I've always dreamed of. So now I think the stars were lined up for me (Thursday night)."
DeBrincat was asked if it was more difficult to see an opposing goaltender score into the empty net than a position player.
"For us, no," DeBrincat said. "For them, I'm sure it is a little bit different. It sucks when you're that close and they end up going in like that. We have to be better, get in better position. I feel like we find ourselves down one with a few minutes to go a lot more than we'd like. We'd like to be playing with the lead but it is what it is and we have to find ways to win."