If the Nashville Predators plan on becoming part of the NHL's elite, they have one glaring weakness that must be corrected.
The Predators hope to rebound from a disappointing loss when they open a four-game road trip against the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday.
Nashville (17-5-3) was headed toward a fifth straight victory with a one-goal lead in the final minute against visiting Chicago on Saturday, but the Blackhawks scored with 34 seconds left in regulation and again 59 seconds into overtime, sending the Predators to a 4-3 loss.
"We should have stayed harder on the puck," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We sort of backed off and gave Chicago a little bit of space. If we had stayed on the puck we could have created a bit more havoc by getting in the shot lanes a little stronger."
The defeat was only the Predators' fifth in the last 22 games (17-2-3), but it continued a trend of poor third periods. They have been outscored 32-18 in the final period this season.
"We have to learn how to protect a lead," Predators defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "When there is a minute to go we have to make sure we don't give up any chances. We didn't play our game. If we had played our game I don't think this team could have matched our speed and skill level. We have to learn from this."
Despite the loss, the point Nashville gained from the overtime loss moved it five ahead of second-place Detroit in the Central Division. The Predators are 8-1-2 in their last 11 contests and play 14 of 20 games at home after this road trip.
One area where Nashville continues to perform well is on the penalty kill. The Predators have allowed only one goal in their last 29 short-handed situations over the past seven games.
Forwards Scott Hartnell and Paul Kariya have been the Predators' offensive leaders lately. Hartnell has five goals and three assists in his past five games, while Kariya has two goals and five assists during a five-game point streak.
Although they remain last in the Pacific Division, the Coyotes (9-15-0) have played much better of late, winning three of four overall and four in a row at home. They finished 6-6-0 in November following a 3-9-0 mark in October.
"I think all around the atmosphere is way better," center Patrick Fischer said. "At the start it was rough and we were losing a lot of games and we got down. It was depressing."
Ladislav Nagy returned from a one-game benching with a goal and three assists as Phoenix won its second straight, 7-4 over visiting Los Angeles on Thursday.
Nagy was benched by coach Wayne Gretzky for the third period of Phoenix's 4-0 loss in Minnesota on Nov. 24. He was then a healthy scratch the next night in the Coyotes' 2-1 win at St. Louis.
"I've got to move on," Nagy said. "I can't really think about it. I'm just trying to have fun on the ice and not really think about it. I'm just trying to do my best."
Nagy's goal was his first in 12 games, while the four points were a season high.
Nashville won 4-1 at home in the first meeting between these teams this season, and has won seven of the last eight matchups in the series.