CHICAGO -- Often when the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators get together, the game-deciding goal is scored from a hustle play or fortunate bounce. Saturday at United Center, the Blackhawks got both by captain Jonathan Toews for a gritty 2-1 overtime win.
Toews tapped in his own rebound to cap a shorthanded breakaway with 1:34 left in overtime, his first goal of the season, and the Blackhawks got back into the win column after losing in overtime Wednesday against the Calgary Flames.
"Sometimes when we're locked in a tight game like that and it's sloppy and ugly, we've just got to find ways to win,"Toews said. "It's not always going to be perfect. It's not always going to be exactly the way we want to play, but we've just got to grind it out and stay positive through [the whole game]."
It didn't look good for the Blackhawks (3-0-1) when left wing Patrick Sharp tripped defenseman Ryan Ellis in the defensive zone 1:50 into overtime. Nashville (3-0-2) played an inspired third period and looked poised to sweep its first back-to-back set of the season.
Toews had other ideas.
After intercepting a drop pass from forward Craig Smith to defenseman Roman Josi inside the Chicago zone, he took off toward the Predators net unimpeded. Carter Hutton (35 saves) made the initial save, but the puck was still loose between his skates when Toews knocked it over the goal line.
"It was just a lucky break," Toews said. "I try to jump on their guy whenever they come into the zone, especially if we're with three guys [at the blue line]. I just try to pressure the puck area and get speed. I think [Hutton] may have bobbled it a little bit and I got my stick on it, so I was just lucky to get a second effort on that one, because the first one didn't go in."
At the other end, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (17 saves) was rewarded for a number of key stops in the third period. Just like the game Wednesday, Crawford did a lot of watching the opposing goalie work.
Despite scoring two goals and going 0-for-5 on power plays, Chicago again dominated puck possession and total shot attempts. That was especially true in the first 40 minutes. Prior to the third, the Blackhawks had scored two goals in their previous 104:35 of action, despite holding a 73-24 advantage in shots and 137-57 margin in total attempts.
One of those two goals was scored by defenseman Johnny Oduya 1:49 into the game Saturday, giving Chicago a quick 1-0 lead.
Clearly, the Blackhawks' quantity of shots is good enough. The quality is lacking, as is traffic in front of the opposing goalie. It's still early, but it's a trend coach Joel Quenneville wants to rectify quickly.
"In this League, if you don't have traffic you're never going to score," Quenneville said. "You generate goals by going to the net and how ugly they can become after that, but that's the recipe for scoring."
Generating quality scoring chances wasn't easy for Nashville either. The Predators had six shots through the first 40 minutes and got their goal from defenseman Shea Weber at 11:17 of the first, capping a power play with his third goal in four games to tie it 1-1.
Otherwise, Nashville didn't get much going until the third. Shots in that period were even at 11, but the Predators finally had some good scoring chances. But Crawford was up to the task.
The first two were by center Calle Jarnkrok. A little more than two minutes into the third, Jarnkrok put a slap shot on goal that Crawford stopped and followed it four seconds later with a snap shot that was also denied.
Smith then had a golden opportunity thwarted at 5:56, when a Blackhawks turnover gave the puck to Colin Wilson to the right side of the Chicago goal. He sent a pass to Smith on the back side, but the puck was fired low into Crawford's right pad.
Crawford made a couple more key stops against Weber and forward Filip Forsberg before Hutton found himself back in the spotlight in the last minute of regulation. The former Blackhawks prospect made saves against left wing Patrick Sharp on a hard wrist shot with 25 seconds left and a sprawling pad stop on a slap shot by Hossa with eight seconds remaining.
That led to Toews' heroics in overtime.
Still, all things considered, Predators coach Peter Laviolette wasn't too displeased. After winning their first road game the night before at the Winnipeg Jets, another Central Division opponent, the Predators head back home with three of four possible points this weekend.
"It wasn't our best early on, but we stuck to it," Laviolette said. "It's too bad. It's a tough way to end it. You get a chance on the power play on a 4-on-3 and it doesn't happen. Overall, based on the trip and the travel that was with it, the guys tried everything possible to get the last point and get another win and get out of here."