The Nashville Predators made their dads proud Wednesday night, pocketing two goals per period and staying disciplined in the face of antagonism to soundly defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-1 at the United Center. Yanic Perreault scored the eventual game-winner 18:46 into the first to give Nashville a 2-1 lead, then Steve Sullivan and Vern Fiddler lit the lamp and Paul Kariya tallied twice to complete a string of five unanswered goals against the Hawks. The victory, which raises the Predators' record to 22-7-3, is Nashville's fourth straight and came during the first stop on the team's annual Fathers' Trip, which offers fathers of Predators players the chance to travel with their sons on a team road trip.
Goaltender Chris Mason got the start for Nashville in the second half of back-to-back games. The Predators and goaltender Tomas Vokoun defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center Tuesday night. Wednesday, Mason turned away 26 of 27 Chicago shots en route to his fourth win of the season. While he and the Predators penalty killers blanked the Blackhawks on five power-play chances, Nashville capitalized twice on its own opportunities with the man advantage.
After enduring a dicey opening two minutes and being outshot 14-10 in the first period, the Predators really clamped down on the Hawks to even second period shots at 10-10 and limit Chicago's third period attempts to just three. As Nashville's lead grew, Chicago increasingly attempted to draw Nashville into penalty trouble. The Predators, who have struggled with committing careless and costly penalties at times this season, refused to take the bait and cruised to their third straight win over their Central Division rival this season. Nashville is now 8-0-1 against teams in its division.
Predators rookie defenseman Ryan Suter opened the scoring 13:15 into the game by posting his first National Hockey League goal. His chance came directly off of a face-off to the left of Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, which center Jerred Smithson won cleanly and drew back toward Suter. With his dad in attendance, the 20-year-old Madison, Wis., native wound up for a sizzling one-timer that beat Khabibulin to put Nashville up 1-0. Chicago responded almost immediately, tying the game with a goal off the stick of Matthew Barnaby 41 seconds later.
With less than two minutes remaining until the first intermission, Suter and Jordin Tootoo got the puck up the ice to Perreault who pressed a two-on-one with teammate Darcy Hordichuk. With his eyes focused on Hordichuk as they entered Chicago's zone, Perreault sold Khabibulin on the notion of a pass before whipping a shot to the far side that rang in off the inside of the left post. The Predators, who entered the game with a 9-1-2 record when leading after one period, carried a 2-1 advantage into locker room at the first break.
A holding penalty to the Blackhawks' Tyler Arnason 26 seconds after play resumed gave Nashville its third power-play opportunity. With Arnason's time in the box nearly expired, Kariya delivered the puck from deep in the left corner of the Chicago zone to Sullivan backpedaling to the left point. Sullivan accepted the pass and took a stride or two toward the middle of the ice before unleashing a slapshot that was deflected past Khabibulin. The power-play goal--Sullivan's team-leading tenth--increased the lead to 3-1 at 2:10.
Six minutes later, a hit on Predators forward Scottie Upshall along the right boards by Chicago's Duncan Keith popped the puck loose. Fiddler picked it up and skated three-quarters of the length of the rink to convert on a two-on-one break that was a mirror image of Perreault's earlier tally. With Kariya on the right wing, Fiddler occupied the left and the lone Blackhawks defenseman favored Kariya. That allowed Fiddler to cut toward the net and get off a forehand wrister from the left face-off circle that beat Khabibulin high off the far post. Fiddler's unassisted goal gave the Predators a commanding 4-1 lead at the 8:08 mark of the middle period and ended Khabibulin's night. He was replaced by back-up Craig Anderson.
The score would remain unchanged until 5:08 of the third, when Kariya netted the first of two goals. Nice forechecking work by Tootoo freed the puck for Perreault along the right boards. Perreault fed a pass to Kariya in the slot below the hashmarks, and his immediate backhand attempt was foiled when the puck bounced over his stick. With defenders encroaching on him, Kariya corraled the puck on his forehand and whirled clockwise 360 degrees for a low shot that surprised Anderson.
The 5-1 lead then became 6-1 on Kariya's second at 16:11. The Blackhawks were already battling a five-minute fighting penalty that was assessed to Todd Simpson--along with instigator, 10-minute misconduct and game misconduct citations--when defenseman Jaroslav Spacek was penalized for roughing. That gave Nashville's power-play unit 1:15 of five-on-three play to work with, but it only needed 40 seconds for Kariya to finish off a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play started by Timonen and Sullivan.
The Predators will look to carry the momentum of Wednesday's win to Columbus, where they'll face another Central Division rival, the Blue Jackets, Friday night. Game time is 6 p.m. and fans can listen to the action on WGFX-104.5 FM. The Fathers' Trip will wrap up after Friday's game and the players will be given Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off before returning to action in Calgary next Tuesday.
Notes: With Wednesday night's win in Chicago, the Predators have evened the all-time series between the two teams at 16-16-4... Nashville remains undefeated against the Central Division with an 8-0-1 record... The Predators have scored 21 goals in their last four games... Nashville has scored five-on-three power-play goals in three of its last four games. Including Nashville's five-on-three advantage in the third period of Wednesday's game, the Blackhawks have been short-handed by two men 40 times this season... With one goal and one assist, Steve Sullivan extended his goal- and point-scoring streaks to five games Wednesday... Yanic Perreault has goals in three of his last four games and points in four of his last five. His tally against Chicago was his first game-winner of the season. He also added an assist... In addition to registering his first NHL goal, rookie defenseman Ryan Suter added an assist and was a +4 against Chicago--the best plus/minus performance in a game by any Predator this season... Paul Kariya posted two goals and an assist for his second three-point night of the season... Kimmo Timonen registered two assists for his eighth multi-point game of the season. He also extended his assist streak to four games... Jordin Tootoo collected two assists Wednesday, giving him two multi-point performances in his last three games... Dan Hamhuis extended his assist streak to three games with a helper against the Blackhawks... Darcy Hordichuk logged 11:14 of ice time Wednesday--his season high... Scottie Upshall, who recorded an assist Wednesday, has points in four of his last five games... Jerred Smithson's assist Wednesday gives him points in two of his last three games... Center Greg Johnson returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a groin strain. He played 15:08 of the game and posted one shot, one hit and one blocked shot... Kris Beech and Jamie Allison were scratches for Nashville Wednesday... Attendance at the United Center was 10,545.
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