Goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped 35 of 38 shots in his National Hockey League debut and five different Predators scored to lead Nashville to a 5-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The Predators scored four consecutive goals in just over 20 minutes to take control of the game 4-1 early in the third period. The Blackhawks rallied with two goals of their own, but a short-handed breakaway tally by Nashville's Steve Sullivan 12:15 into the final session secured the victory. The Predators snapped a three-game losing skid with the win, which pushes their record to 19-7-3 on the season.
"I think our second period was the key tonight," Nashville center Yanic Perreault said. "We came back pretty hard. We were down by one goal. It's a big win for us. We've been struggling a little bit lately and we've got to build from this one tonight."
For the fourth game in a row, the Predators had early power plays that they were unable to capitalize on. In fact, the Blackhawks got on the board at 2:04 during Nashville's first man advantage, when Mark Bell rocketed a shot past Rinne, who was recalled from Nashville's primary minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee on Wednesday. But if the 23-year-old Finnish netminder was flustered after Bell's goal, he didn't show it. He went on to help the Predators stone Chicago on a five-on-three opportunity and keep the game close heading into the second period.
"Nice debut," Trotz said of Rinne's performance. "We had a terrible giveaway--I think it was Sullivan who made the giveaway--then Pekka gets his first shot in the NHL, and the guy rips it right by him. How a guy responds to that tells you a lot about a player. He responded very well. Then they had a five-on-three, and he was outstanding."
The Predators had generated a number of chances in the first period, but showed renewed intensity from the start of the second. Five seconds in, defenseman Danny Markov knocked a Hawk to the ice with a huge open-ice hit. Just over a minute later, Paul Kariya tied it from the top of the left circle, burying a lightning fast one-timer from a pass by Jamie Allison.
Martin Erat gave Nashville a 2-1 lead at 10:32, finishing off a play he started by bringing the puck up the right wing into Chicago's zone. Defenseman Danny Markov at the left point tapped his stick to call for the puck, and Erat delivered it. Markov then fired a shot that went through the legs of Nashville's Scott Hartnell, stationed in front of Hawks goaltender Craig Anderson, but the puck was blocked down by the netminder. Hartnell picked up the loose rebound and passed across the crease to Erat, who had an easy shot for his eighth goal of the season.
Nashville, who came up empty on five power-play chances in the first, cashed in on their seventh man advantage at 16:49 of the second to go up 3-1. With the Predators set up in Chicago's zone, Sullivan sent the puck from the left corner to defenseman Kimmo Timonen at the point. Timonen put the puck down low again to Sullivan, who whipped a pass across the top of the crease to Perreault. The center's swing at the puck largely missed, but connected enough to propel the disc slowly across the goal line before Anderson could react.
"I didn't get good wood on it, but it was a nice pass by [Sullivan] and we [moved] the puck pretty good on that power play," said Perreault, who skated in his 700th career NHL game Thursday. "It was a good PP goal for us."
Rinne, who came up big on a brief five-on-three disadvantage earlier in the period, made a dazzling glove save in a final few minutes that also included good pressure from Sullivan in the waning seconds. The Predators, who entered the game 9-0-2 when leading after two, took a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.
Vern Fiddler stretched the margin to 4-1 at the 1:48 mark of the third, scoring on a give-and-go play with Hartnell. The two entered the offensive zone with speed and Hartnell faked as if he was going to shoot but passed it to his right to Fiddler, who had started the play in the neutral zone. Fiddler, coming in toward the right post, was able to chip the puck high over the left shoulder of Anderson.
But the momentum shifted less than 30 seconds later, when Tyler Arnason cut the Predators' lead in half. That was followed by a bang-bang play in which Matthew Barnaby passed the puck out from behind Nashville's net to an oncoming Anton Babchuk, who beat Rinne to the far side at point blank-range for his first NHL goal.
With the score now 4-3, the gathered crowd of 11,701 sat a bit closer to the edge of their seats for the next six minutes, until Sullivan restored a two-goal lead with his second short-handed marker of the season. During the Blackhawks' power play, Rinne had already made a key save on Patrick Sharp when he seemed content to stop play by holding onto another Chicago shot for a whistle. But the whistle never came and the puck was suddenly and surprisingly back in action. The Hawks kept it in Nashville's zone until Timonen corralled it in the right corner and released a clearing pass up ice that was tipped by teammate Jerred Smithson near the Predators' blue line. That perfectly led Sullivan who was barreling after the puck behind Chicago's defense. Once he caught up with the puck with only the goalie to beat, Sullivan confidently put it past Anderson with a shot from 15 feet out at 12:15.
Rinne was tested with 18 shots in the final period, but after Sullivan's goal he and the Predators denied the Blackhawks any foothold and held on to win 5-3. Sullivan's one-goal, one-assist performance bailed him out of the doghouse he was in after taking two penalties and committing a crucial turnover in the first period.
"It's one of those things where you're in the doghouse, but I also know that if we're going to win hockey games he's got to be an important part of it. Just like Paul Kariya has to be, and Kimmo Timonen...," Trotz said. "If he wouldn't have responded or gotten us the big goal, he would have been in the doghouse, sure. They're playmakers. It's no different than football or basketball. Certain guys, they're going to make mistakes, but they're the guys that are going to make the difference in the game. Fortunately for [Sullivan], he responded and got a big goal for us."
The win came as the Predators returned to Western Conference divisional play after five straight games--and three straight losses--against the East. Nashville faces another Central Division rival, the Columbus Blue Jackets, on Saturday. Tickets are still available for that game and can be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online or visiting the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster location.
"When you lose three games in a row you've really got to take a gut check and look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'What can I bring more to the table?' " Fiddler said. "I think we did that tonight. All 20 guys really stood up. We showed why we're a successful team. Successful teams find a way to win."
Notes: Goaltender Pekka Rinne became the fourth netminder to start a game for the Predators this season... Vern Fiddler scored his second goal with the Predators, both of which have been game winners. He also posted a team-high six shots--a new career high... Scott Hartnell's two-assist night gives him four multi-point games on the season... Kimmo Timonen's two assists Thursday increased his number of multi-point games this season to seven... Steve Sullivan's two-point night ties him with Paul Kariya for the team lead in scoring... The Predators have scored at least one power-play goal in 14 of their last 15 games... Nashville's penalty killers went a perfect nine for nine against Chicago, and also picked up a short-handed goal... Jordin Tootoo skated in his first game since Opening Night. He was recalled Thursday from Milwaukee of the AHL... The Predators are now 6-0-1 vs. Central Division foes, 10-3-1 when allowing the first goal and 14-3-0 at home... Goaltender Chris Mason and defenseman Ryan Suter were scratches Thursday.
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