Down three goals in the opening 11 minutes, the Nashville Predators pulled back to within a single score twice, but ultimately dropped their first game of the season by a 5-3 final to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago used a strong opening 20 minutes to force a split of the teams' home-and-home series, with the Hawks' Scott Darling notching 33 saves to record the win over fellow backup goalie Marek Mazanec.
"There were a couple of fortunate bounces for them, and it makes the period look worse than it was," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought our guys played hard, out-shot them, out-chanced them and did a lot of good things. We had a big goal at the end of the [first] period but you're sitting on a 3-1 deficit, against a good hockey team, that's hard to come back from."
The Blackhawks struck first for the second-straight game against the Preds (and third overall), when center Nick Schmaltz netted his first NHL goal high over Manezec's glove.
Two goals in a 120-second span upped the home team's lead to 3-0 with markers off the sticks of Brent Seabrook and Richard Panik.
"Our start [could have been better], I thought we played well in the first and there were a couple bounces… they scored three quick ones, and I don't think it was as bad as the score was," Preds blueliner Roman Josi said. "Then in the second, we had a lot of chances and just couldn't come back in the end."
Mazanec, making his first NHL start since Jan. 30, 2015, was critical of his 22-save performance, but his teammates said the Czech netminder gave them more than enough to win. Goals by Craig Smith and Viktor Arvidsson pulled the Predators to within one at 3-2 and 4-3, respectively.
Video: NSH@CHI: Arvidsson holds off defender, beats Darling
"I thought he was great the whole game, there's nothing he can do on those goals, and I thought he played a really solid game," Josi said of Mazanec. "It's hard if you get scored on three times in the first, and he did an amazing job of staying calm and kept us in the game the whole time."
"We've proven ourselves to be a team that can come back in the third, but we want to be a team that can come back from deficits," winger Filip Forsberg said.
Nashville found life in the closing moments of the first frame, cutting the deficit to 3-1. James Neal forced the puck through neutral ice and fired a low shot on net that rebounded to the side of the cage for Colin Wilson to sweep into the net. Smith's tally came with less than two minutes to play in middle frame, and gave Nashville its fourth man-advantage goal of the season.
Video: NSH@CHI: Smith rings PPG off the post, cuts deficit
A hat trick from Richard Panik ensured the home team would remain ahead, however.
"I liked our game, I thought we ran out of steam a bit in the third period, but we still had some chances to score," Laviolette said. "But for two periods, I thought we played with pretty good energy and did a lot of good things out there. The goal at the end of the first, that gave us a little life, we had a goal in the second, gave us a little more life, it's just hard to dig out of those holes, that's all."
The Predators will now have a two days before they face another Central Division rival, the Dallas Stars, at home on Tuesday night (7 p.m. CT on FS-TN).
"It's going to be a big game, the division is probably going to turn out as to who's in the playoffs and who isn't," Forsberg said. "If you can win your division games, that can help you out a lot and coming home and playing in front of our fans again will be a big extra boost, for sure."
Forward Miikka Salomaki left Saturday's game with an upper-body injury and did not return. Salomaki blocked a shot off of his hand in the second period.
Anthony Bitetto missed Saturday's game with an upper-body injury. He will be re-evaluated on Monday in Nashville. Yannick Weber made his season debut, taking Bitetto's place on the third defensive pairing.
Nashville went 1-for-2 on the power play, keeping their 50-percent conversion rate through the first two games of the season. The Preds have four goals on eight power-play opportunities.
The Predators return home on Tuesday night to host the Dallas Stars at Bridgestone Arena. The club will round out the week with another back-to-back situation when they face the Red Wings in Detroit on Friday (their final visit to Joe Louis Arena) before hosting Pittsburgh on Saturday.