James Neal scored twice and Pekka Rinne stopped 35 shots as the Nashville Predators defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 in the second half of a home-and-home series on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.
The victory gave Nashville 15 wins and 35 points on the season, good enough to pass Chicago in the Central Division standings and slot third among the group.
“We needed those two points, especially against that team,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “We came out hard right off the bat, kind of let it slide in the second, but overall, I thought we played a great hockey game.”
The Predators were all over the Blackhawks, outshooting Chicago 10-0 less than six minutes into the period. Nashville’s 11th shot found its way past Scott Darling. Neal went inside out on defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson on his way to the net, sliding the puck underneath Darling for a 1-0 Predators lead.
Then it was Craig Smith’s turn, potting his sixth goal of the season with a play at the front of the net in which the Preds forward got just enough on the puck for it to ever-so-slightly elude a sprawling Darling and barley cross the goal line. Less than 40 seconds later, it was Filip Forsberg converting on a power-play opportunity for a 3-0 Nashville lead headed into the first intermission. Defenseman Barret Jackman and forward Paul Gaustad were both involved in scraps for the Preds in the opening frame, with a shot total reading 18-7 in favor of Nashville at the end of the frame.
“I think it was one of our best periods of the year,” Neal said. “Every guy wanted to respond from our game in Chicago. It was a tough one for us, so coming back home and having Chicago again was great for our team, and I think we did a great job.”
After a scoreless second, Patrick Kane got the Blackhawks on the board in the third to make it 3-1, but the Preds withstood Chicago’s push as Neal potted his second of the evening before Eric Nystrom iced it with a shorthanded, empty-net tally for the 5-1 final.
“You know that they’re going to come with a big pushback, but we did a great job of holding them back,” Neal said. “They have high-end skill and they’re going to wind it up and come at you from all angles, and I think we did a good job of being hard on their top guys and not giving them much. I like the way we played tonight.”
Preds Dedication Pays Off:
The Predators weren’t necessarily frustrated, but they weren’t getting the results they wanted either. Until the Blackhawks came to town.
Nashville exploded from the start of Thursday’s contest, registering 10 shots less than six minutes into the first period, and finishing the frame out with a 3-0 lead. It may have been just a regular season game in December, but the victory feels a little sweeter coming against a Chicago team that bested Nashville in the first round of the playoffs last season.
“[Playing] a team that’s obviously Stanley Cup Champions, they know how to score, so I thought we did a fairly good job [holding them off],” Ellis said. “[Rinne] played amazing tonight; that’s what we needed from him and he had a great game. That was huge for us.”
The victory in the second half of the home-and-home series was gratifying against the Blackhawks, a result the Nashville bench boss was content with as time expired.
“We had a chance to go back and play them again,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “No one felt good about [Tuesday’s game]. I think that showed tonight by the way we took the ice. I think that is first and foremost.”
Gif of the Game:
Even if you’re mad, throwing Eric Nystrom’s hockey stick is never the answer.
Pekka Rinne on the Preds feeding off the fans’ energy inside Bridgestone Arena:
“It helped playing at home. Having this awesome crowd that we can feed off, they work as an advantage for us. If you can match that energy level, that intensity, I think for the most part we’re going to be in good shape.”
Roman Josi extended his point streak to six games, a career high for the defenseman.
Forward Colin Wilson missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury.
Nashville hosts another Central Division opponent on Saturday when they welcome the Colorado Avalanche to town, followed by a date with the Calgary Flames on Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena.