The Nashville Predators jumped out to an early lead and survived a second-period rally by the visiting Chicago Blackhawks to secure a wild 5-3 victory Tuesday night in the 500th game in franchise history. The win moves Nashville's record to 8-0-0 and retains their standing as the only unbeaten team in the NHL this season.
The first match-up of 2005-06 between these two Central Division rivals sets an interesting precedent for the remaining seven games they'll play before mid-April. Paul Kariya and David Legwand each contibuted a goal and an assist a penalty-filled affair, which required the Predators to face a franchise record 13 shorthanded situations. Nashville's penalty killers and goaltender Tomas Vokoun kept Chicago's power play scoreless until the final two minutes of the third, when Jim Vandermeer's goal came too late to do any harm.
"A lot of credit goes to our penalty killers," Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. "Guys like Greg Johnson and Scottie Nichol and Stevie Sullivan and Adam Hall who don't get a lot of credit for the stuff they do. And obviously your best penalty killer is your goaltender, and Vokoun was great again."
The caravan to the penalty box started from the first face-off, as Nashville's Jeremy Stevenson and Chicago's Matthew Barnaby dropped the gloves for a bout at the :03 mark. It was the first of five scraps on the night, including a third-period rematch between the original combatants.
"We had zero fights in our first seven games," Trotz said. "We made up for that tonight."
The Predators struck first on the scoreboard when Scott Hartnell hit Martin Erat with a pass at the offensive blue line. Erat skated in and ripped a shot from the left wing that beat Khabibulin at 8:57.
On the power play, Erat fired a similar shot from the opposite side less than 5 minutes later. This time Khabibulin made the save, but gave up a big rebound to his right where Dan Hamhuis jumped on the puck and sent it back on goal. Hamhuis' shot was blocked, but the puck bounced out to Yanic Perreault standing alone in the slot with Khabibulin out of position. Perreault made it 2-0 at 13:49.
Nashville increased its lead to 3-0 just over a minute later. Legwand skated in on a two-on-one chance and passed up a good scoring opportunity in order to attempt a pass that failed to connect with Kariya. Legwand retrieved the puck in the left corner and successfully fed Kariya for a shot that beat Khabibulin at 15:04.
Chicago clawed back into the game in the second period, outshooting Nashville 16 to five and getting two goals just 36 seconds apart midway through the frame. Jim Dowd tallied first, collecting his own rebound in front of Vokoun and banking a shot in off the Nashville goaltender's left leg pad. Barnaby notched the second one after being sent in on a breakaway with a pass by Duncan Keith.
The Hawks were given a golden opportunity to tie the game with a 5-on-3 advantage at 12:55, but were overmatched by Predators penalty killing that was able to block shots and clear the puck out of the zone twice to burn precious seconds off the clock. David Legwand regained the momentum for Nashville by pushing the lead back to two goals, 4-2, in the final minute of the third period. Kariya and Hartnell earned assists on the play.
"[Legwand's] goal was huge," Trotz said. "It sort of stopped the bleeding."
A penalty to Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter put Chicago on the power play again early in the third, but Steve Sullivan turned the tables by picking up a loose puck in the neutral zone and converting on a breakaway while his team was shorthanded.
"You look at the goal at the end of the [second] period and the shorthanded goal against," said Blackhawks head coach Trent Yawney. "That's not going to win you too many games."
A series of fights followed in the third--Stevenson vs. Todd Simpson, Predators d-man Jamie Allison vs. Martin Lapointe, and Stevenson's rematch with Barnaby. "They were probably just sending out their business cards for the year," Trotz said.
Vokoun was called on to make a number of key saves as the final period progressed, including a point blank shot from the right side at 11:46. For the night he turned away 38 of 41 Chicago chances. Khabibulin stopped 17 of the 22 he faced at the other end.
The Predators turn right around and put their unbeaten record on the line tomorrow night in Columbus. It will be Nashville's first look at the Blue Jackets and the team's second set of back-to-back games this season. The game begins at 6:00 p.m. CDT and will be televised on FSN South and broadcast on 104.5 FM The Zone.
Notes: Jeremy Stevenson surpassed the existing franchise record for penalty minutes by one individual in a game--25, co-owned by him and Scott Walker--with his 35 PIMs Tuesday night (three fighting majors, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct)... The Predators were whistled for a total of 95 penalty minutes, establishing a new team record for number of PIMs in one game... Forward Scott Hartnell recorded the first three-assist game of his career and extended his point-scoring streak to five games.... Defenseman Dan Hamhuis collected two assists Tuesday to extend his career-best scoring streak to five points (1 goal, 4 assists) in three games... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun tied his longest winning streak (seven games) with his win over the Hawks... Rookie defenseman Ryan Suter registered five blocked shots against Chicago... Tuesday night's attendance was 13,412.