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Predators top Blackhawks for third straight road win

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The odds might be heavily stacked against the Nashville Predators making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they are fighting nonetheless.

They've won three straight games, all on the road, after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Friday at United Center.

"We keep our dream alive," said goalie Pekka Rinne, who made 31 saves for his second straight win. "It was our goal at the beginning of the season to make the playoffs and we still have a slim chance. We obviously know the situation we're in, but whatever things we can control, we just try to take care of it and go one game at a time."

Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Ellis scored for Nashville (29-28-10). The Predators got an assist from defenseman Shea Weber and three from partner Roman Josi. His last, a beautiful stretch pass after knocking down a shot, set up Ellis for the game-winning goal 45 seconds into the third period.

Nashville is 22 points behind Chicago for the last automatic playoff spot in the Central Division and seven points away from the last wild-card position in the Western Conference. According to, the Predators have a 1.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, but Weber, the Predators' captain, said his team isn't approaching it that way.

"Not at all," he said. "There's still a chance. There might be some people who count us out, but there is still a chance and we've got to keep fighting. Even if there wasn't, I think there's enough pride in this room. Guys have a lot to play for and there is no quit."

Jonathan Toews and Peter Regin scored for Chicago (38-15-14), which lost its second straight and saw another chance to gain footing in the tight Central race slip away. The Blackhawks, who are a point behind the Colorado Avalanche for second place, are 9-11-3 against division opponents and 10-8-7 overall since the start of 2014.

Chicago gave up the game's first goal to Fisher at 15:33. The latter half of the first period was dominated by the Predators, who took a 2-0 lead on Hornqvist's power-play goal 3:18 later before Toews scored with 13.3 seconds left.

"The first five [to] 10 minutes weren't bad," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was tough to watch the last part of the first period. I thought that was as bad as we've probably played for any stretch all year. We got one at the end of the period to give us a little hope. In the second period, we were better, and the last 10 minutes [of the third] we were fine, but I'm not happy with our game at all."

Toews nearly scored twice in the third period, when Chicago outshot Nashville 12-7.

"It's just another case of us finally playing the way we can, the way we're supposed to, but it's just too late again," Toews said. "We're putting ourselves in tough situations by not starting well and just getting away from our team game. So, not much of an explanation, but we know we need better right now. We need to get out of this kind of trend that we're in right now."

Chicago had chances to snap it early in the first period, but Rinne was up to the challenge. Nashville didn't log its first shot until 9:18 into the game but made up for it during the final 10 minutes.

Fisher opened the scoring with his 17th goal, off a rebound of Josi's shot, before Hornqvist made it 2-0 with his 13th, a backhander off a rebound of Weber's shot to cap a power play.

It looked like Nashville might run away with it, but Toews knocked down a pass in the neutral zone, broke toward the Nashville end, and after some nice passing with Kris Versteeg, buried his 26th goal by wristing a shot over the sprawled Rinne.

The score remained 2-1 through the second period thanks to the goaltenders.

Rinne, who made 13 saves in the period, started the highlights at 3:26 by turning away a 2-on-1 chance. After Toews set up Brandon Saad with a feed in the left circle, Rinne deflected the hard wrist shot. He also stopped Patrick Sharp on a breakaway attempt at 10:11, making the save on a low backhand with his left pad.

Chicago's Corey Crawford was up next with 5:49 left. After chasing down a puck flipped into the offensive zone, Predators forward Craig Smith snapped a quick wrist shot from the left circle high to the far side of the net. It probably would've been a goal if weren't for Crawford's glove save while falling down, one of his 26.

Crawford couldn't stop Nashville's next big scoring chance, when Ellis beat him with a slick deke on a breakaway. Josi started the play by knocking down a shot, then hit Ellis in stride with a stretch pass after he'd left the penalty box.

"[Josi's] got great vision." Ellis said. "He made a great pass and it all worked out for us. We've rattled off three wins [on the road] here and we're getting back in the race."

Regin scored with 11:28 remaining to make it a one-goal game.

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