Photo by John Russell
A Predators fan attempts to distract the Chicago players during a conference on the bench.
Chicago's Jeffrey Hamilton scored his third goal of the night :59 into overtime to complete a 4-3 comeback win for the Chicago Blackhawks over the Nashville Predators Saturday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
The loss bumps Nashville's record to 17-5-3 this season, but the Predators take one point in the standings from the OT loss to expand their Central Division lead to five points over the second-place Detroit Red Wings. Nashville has still lost only twice in regulation in its last 22 games, going 17-2-3 in that span.
Allowing a late comeback is something the Predators have had trouble with earlier this season. "It seems like we're giving up late goals," Predators forward Scott Hartnell said. "We're up a couple goals and we just tend to make it interesting for the other team. We'd rather get a goal and just--not sit on the lead--but play well defensively."
The Predators scored two second-period goals in 23 seconds to take 3-2 lead over the Blackhawks heading into the third, but Hamilton scored his second goal of the night to tie the game with 33.7 seconds remaining in regulation. Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin had been pulled for an extra attacker. That goal sent the game into a five-minute, four-on-four overtime period.
Predators defenseman Marek Zidlicky lost his stick on the game-deciding play, allowing forward Patrick Sharp to thread a pass through the crease to Hamilton for a tap-in to end the sudden-death OT session and give Chicago its third straight win.
Nashville seemed to have the game well in hand after the two quick second-period goals. "We did a good job regouping," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought we were in good shape after two [periods]."
Shea Weber's point blast beat Khabibulin cleanly at 13:52 to tie the game at 2-2, then Steve Sullivan fed Kimmo Timonen for a shot that beat Khabibulin from the slot at 14:15. Thirty seconds later, Dan Hamhuis delivered a solid open-ice hit on Tuomo Ruutu, prompting Brent Seabrook to instigate a fight with Hamhuis. In addition to the fighting majors handed to Hamhuis and Seabrook, Seabrook earned an extra two minutes and a 10-minute misconduct.
The Predators and the crowd of 15,530 were buzzing immediately after Weber's goal. J.P. Dumont delivered a stiff hit in the right corner of Chicago's zone that freed the puck up from a Blackhawks player. Dumont sent a pass behind the net to Sullivan, who curled out to the left side of the goal before spotting Timonen pinching way in from his point position. That led to the go-ahead goal with 5:45 left in the second period.
Earlier in the period, Tony Salmelainen scored to give Chicago a 2-1 lead after the two teams played to a 1-1 draw in the first. On Salmelainen's goal, his teammate chipped the puck off the wall through the neutral zone, allowing the Chicago winger to catch up to it, move around defenseman Greg Zanon and shovel a shot on net that surprisingly slid through Predators goaltender Chris Mason.
"He was trying to go upstairs and whiffed on it," Mason said of the goal. "My stick was way off the ice. That can't happen."
Nashville found itself down by a goal early, when Hamilton scored :30 into the game to give Chicago a 1-0 lead. The unassisted tally came off a shot from the far side of the right circle in Nashville's zone. The puck hit Mason before falling behind him inside the goal.
Hartnell netted a power-play goal with 1:48 remaining in the first period to pull Nashville even with Chicago. With Blackhawks forward Martin Lapointe in the box for hooking, Timonen faked a shot from the top of the slot and fed the puck to Paul Kariya low on the right side of the Blackhawks' zone. Kariya then passed to Hartnell in front for a redirection that Khabibulin nearly stopped with his goal stick. The puck did cross the goal line, as a video review confirmed.
"Timonen made a great play over to Paul and Paul passed it over," Hartnell said. "I was able to get not a lot of wood on it, but it was going over [the line]. I actually thought [Khabibulin] saved it and then Marty [Erat] banged in the rebound. They just went upstairs for a second or two, but I guess it crossed the line."
The Kariya-to-Hartnell play was an exact repeat of a power-play chance the two generated at 7:15 of the first, but Khabibulin made a superb stop to prevent that one from going in. The Blackhawks goaltender was sharp, also snapping up a Josef Vasicek backhander with his catching glove minutes before Nashville broke through with its first goal.
Predators forward Jordin Tooto was active in the first period, delivering hits, forcing turnovers, and prompting a number of Blackhawks to challenge him to drop the gloves. Tootoo and Seabrook squared off 5:57 into the game.
The Blackhawks outshot the Predators 11-8 through the first 20 minutes of play. Nashville rallied with 15 shots in the second, compared to 7 for Chicago. By the game's end, the Blackhawks topped the shot count by a 30-28 margin. Afterward, Mason expressed disappointed in his performance, especially on the first two Chicago goals.
"I've got to have those," Mason said. "That's the bottom line. The guys are playing well enough that they deserved a better fate."
NOTES: Scott Hartnell's first-period goal gives him five over the past five games. It was his team-leading sixth power-play tally. He also added three assists over the last five games for a total of 8 points (5g-3a) in that span... Kimmo Timonen recorded his team-leading 10th power-play point (4g-6a) with an assist on Hartnell's first-period goal. His second-period goal gave him three multi-point performances in his last four games... The Predators outscored Chicago 2-1 in the second period and have now outscored opponents 36-14 in the middle frame this season... Nashville is 4-0-1 in its last five games and 8-1-2 in its last 11... The Preds penalty killers were a perfect 5-for-5 Saturday against the Blackhawks power play and are now 28-for-29 over the last seven games... Paul Kariya posted an assist Saturday and now has points in five straight games (2g-5a=7pts)... Alexander Radulov posted an assist and now also has points in five straight games (4g-2a=6pts)... The Predators have posted a record of 6-0-3 in their last nine games at home... Nashville's 10 home games played to this point in the season are the fewest in the NHL... Goaltender Chris Mason is 3-0-1 in his last four games and 6-0-2 in his last eight... Shea Weber scored his fifth goal in his last 14 games... The Predators are 13-0-3 when leading after two periods... Head coach Barry Trotz coached his 599th career NHL game Saturday and will reach No. 600 when the team faces the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday... Darcy Hordichuk and Mikko Lehtonen were scratches for the Predators.