CHICAGO – It could've been one of those sequences that led to a complete unraveling for Corey Crawford.
Instead, the Chicago Blackhawks goalie shook off a pair of shaky goals he allowed early in the third period on Monday at United Center and helped his team grind out a gritty 3-2 shootout win against the Nashville Predators.
Chicago won the shootout in the fifth round when, of all people, defenseman Michal Rozsival beat Pekka Rinne with a backhand and Crawford stopped Taylor Beck to end it.
"Actually he's been pretty good in practice," Crawford said of Rozsival, who doesn't have a single goal in his stat line and still won't despite the pretty move to beat one of the League's top goalies. "He's been really tough to stop. I think [Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville] saw that in practice and decided to give him a try. I think he's made that move on me about 12 times this year in practice and has scored every time. It was definitely a huge relief to get that win."
That's because of what happened in the first 10 minutes of the third, when Nashville stormed back into the game after trailing 2-0 heading into the final period. David Legwand cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 just 3:56 into the third by jabbing a loose puck underneath a diving Crawford on an otherwise harmless play and the Predators came to life after being dominated.
They swarmed the Blackhawks net and tied it 2-2 on a goal by Beck at 7:26 of the third, with Crawford making the initial stop on that one and watching helplessly as the puck slid over the goal line behind him. Instead of melting down, Crawford stiffened his resolve and made a number of key saves down the stretch to help get the game to overtime and then the breakaways.
"I think before, maybe earlier in my career, I would've just fallen apart and maybe given up another two after that [first one]," Crawford told NHL.com after making 25 saves in 65 minutes and three more in the shootout for his second straight win. "Even their second one, I had it and I just watched it trickle in. My glove got stuck in my jersey or something and I was trying to get my glove back to get it, but I just wasn't quick enough. Whatever … it happened. I've just got to learn from it and be more careful next time."
Just a few moments earlier, Crawford was even more critical of his play on the Legwand goal.
"Obviously a brutal misplay by me," Crawford said. "I've been taking a lot of pride in not giving up bad goals this year, and it was just one that kind of got away from me. I did my best to try and shake it off. Obviously you don't want to give that up, but whatever … it happened and gave them a little momentum. They were all over us in our zone. I think it was just because of that goal. It was just a brutal play, but I was able to battle back there and make some key saves after that."
As a result, the Blackhawks didn't have to stew about blowing another late lead and "leaving points on the table," as Quenneville calls it.
It looked like a Chicago victory was going to come pretty easily after 40 minutes. Brandon Saad scored his third goal in two games with just 11.3 seconds left in the first to make it 1-0 and Patrick Kane scored his 19th goal of the season in the second for a 2-0 lead.
Chicago (27-5-3) led 27-11 in shots after two periods and could've been ahead by a lot more than two goals were it not for the stellar goaltending of Rinne (38 saves). Then came the third, when Legwand's goal flipped everything around.
"It's just maybe his first mistake maybe all year that he gave up, so we'll give him a break on that one," Kane said. "But we definitely let him hear it after the game, for sure."
And it wasn't all Crawford's doing. The Predators were literally skating circles around the Blackhawks at times in the offensive zone, making 5-on-5 play look like a Nashville power play.
"I think we relaxed a little bit in the third," Kane said. "I thought we had a good first 40 [minutes] and thought that maybe it was going to come easy in the third, and it didn't."
The Predators (14-14-8) made sure of it and, though disappointed not to win, were satisfied with getting a point out of this game. They now have 36 points and sit in 11th place in the Western Conference – just two points back of the St. Louis Blues who are currently clinging to the eighth and final qualifying spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nashville has now earned points in five of its last six games despite not winning in three straight. The Predators also have seven of their next eight games at home and get two more cracks at the Blackhawks this coming weekend – once in the Music City and one more time in Chicago.
"That might be the point that gets us in," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "That's how you have to look at it. If we don't get a point tonight, we don't know, and we gave ourselves a chance to get two. The negative is we didn't get two. I look at it the other way."