|Photo by John RussellMartin Erat
, Nashville's first shooter in the shootout, scored when the puck hit Blackhawks goaltender Craig Anderson then trickled into the net.
The Nashville Predators clinched their second playoff berth in franchise history Saturday night with a 2-1 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Predators goaltender Chris Mason stopped both Chicago players he faced in the shootout while Martin Erat
and Paul Kariya scored for Nashville at the other end to break a 1-1 tie that stood through regulation play and a five-minute overtime session.
The Predators got off to a sluggish start, giving up a goal 2:20 into the first period. The home team righted the ship by the midpoint of the period but continued to be thwarted by Blackhawks goalie Craig Anderson for the bulk of the game. After a first period in which the shots on net were tied at nine apiece, Nashville outshot Chicago by a margin of 27-13 over the final 40 minutes. Defenseman Mark Eaton finally solved Anderson with less than four minutes to go in the third period, setting the stage for overtime and the shootout.
"They scored first five minutes, we score last five minutes," Mason said of the game's dramatic flair. "We had a lot of chances on the power play and we just couldn't get it in. They made a couple good shot blocks, things like that. Another good shootout. Great goal by Marty [Erat] and the clincher by Pauly [Kariya]. It was a good game."
With the win, the Predators improve their record to 45-25-8 and remain four points ahead of Anaheim for fourth place in the Western Conference standings--and home-ice advantage for the first-round of the playoffs. Four games are left on the Predators' regular season schedule. "Our goal is home ice, so we still have a lot of work ahead of us because Anaheim doesn't seem to want to lose," Eaton said. "We may have to win out to clinch home ice."
The game opened with Chicago spending an inordinate amount of time in Nashville's zone. The Blackhawks were winning races to loose pucks and were generating numerous scoring chances early. James Wisniewski's left point shot found the back of the net at 2:20 to give the visitors the 1-0 lead.
"[We had] a little bit of a sluggish start where they came out and had us on our heels a little bit," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "They threw a puck at the net and there was nothing [Mason] could do. There's no way he would have seen that. After that I thought we played pretty well the rest of the night. We moved our feet, drew a lot of penalties because of work, and we had lots of chances. I thought the Anderson kid for Chicago was absolutely standing on his head."
The quality of Nashville's scoring chances improved as the game progressed, and just about every player in the Predators lineup was stymied by Anderson at some point. Only four Predators failed to register a shot on net, with eight players uncorking three or more to contribute to Nashville's game total of 43. In contrast, Chicago mustered 24 shots, with only a trio of Hawks posting three or more.
The Predators nearly tied the game with five-and-a-half minutes remaining, when Mike Sillinger won an offensive zone draw cleanly back to Kariya for a blistering shot that was saved by Anderson. Less than a minute later, Vern Fiddler backhanded the puck through the crease behind Chicago's goalie. The building momentum paid dividends at 16:02, as Eaton--trailing on a rush--took a pass from Greg Johnson and rifled a shot as teammate Adam Hall positioned himself to block Anderson's view of the puck.
"I just got on the ice and Greg Johnson made a great play, pulling off, and saw me coming late," Eaton said. "I saw a guy sliding in front of me so I just tried to get it over him. Our other forwards did a great job screening their goalie. I don't think he saw it."
Scott Nichol hit the post with a shot moments later as Nashville enjoyed an adrenaline lift from the tying goal. Duncan Keith's double-minor for high-sticking at 18:23 of the third gave the Predators a golden opportunity to steal a regulation win. The home side was unable to strike again before the third-period buzzer, however, and could not capitalize on the carryover four-on-three power play that opened the five-minute overtime either. Fiddler was a catalyst for a pair of close calls in the final one-and-a-half minutes of the OT session, yet neither team could find the back of the net before the final buzzer heralded a shootout.
Matthew Barnaby was the first shooter for Chicago, and his off-speed approach and series of innocuous fakes resulted in a simple, low shot into Mason's right leg pad. Erat then followed for Nashville, closing in on Anderson at a faster clip and releasing a shot that struck the Blackhawks goalie but had enough momentum to proceed lazily over the goal line.
Next, Chicago's Patrick Sharp deked to his forehand and lifted a shot that was grabbed out of the air by the glove hand of Mason. A goal by Nashville's next shooter, Paul Kariya, would end the event.
"We scored the first goal and 'Mase' stopped the first two, and I was telling Sillinger he was up fourth," Trotz said. "He goes, 'No, P.K.'s up next. It's all over.' "
Indeed, Kariya swooped in on Anderson with his familiar right to left move, cranking a shot over Anderson's glove hand and into the upper right corner of the net. "Marty went down and scored top glove, so I had that in the back of my mind," Kariya said. "I thought I might go five-hole. The glove was open."
The relative ease with which the Predators beat Anderson during the shootout after being stumped by him in regulation was not a fluke. The Predators had done their homework.
"We sort of prepared for [the possibility of a shootout] tonight," Trotz said. "We didn't want to leave anything to chance, so [goaltending coach] Mitch Korn and the coaching staff made a presentation--if we [were to] get to that point tonight on him--and there were some things that we saw that we could take advantage of. The players listened and they did [take advantage of them]."
Notes: Nashville's victory over Chicago Saturday was the team's 29th home win of the season (29-8-1). Only Carolina has more home wins, with 30... The win was also the Predators' ninth when trailing after two periods (9-19-2) and the 22nd after allowing the first goal of the game (22-11-2)... Goaltender Chris Mason has allowed only one goal in his last two games--both wins--and now has a record of 8-5-1 for the season... Nashville is 6-3 in shootouts this season. Paul Kariya scored his fifth shootout goal in seven attempts. Martin Erat is now two-for-two in shootout attempts, with both goals being game-deciding goals. Mason is 2-0 in shootouts and has not allowed a goal by any of the five shooters he has faced... The Predators' penalty killers are 22-for-22 over their last four games... Mark Eaton's third period goal was his second tally in his last three games. He now has four points on the season (3g-1a)... Saturday's win was No. 45 for Nashville, giving the team 98 points. Both marks are club records. The Preds have improved their point total for three straight seasons (2001-02: 69 points; 2002-03: 74 points; 2003-04: 91 points; 2005-06: currently at 98 points)... The 2-1 win was Nashville's 25th one-goal victory of the season (25-14 in one-goal games)... Nashville finished the season series against the Blackhawks with a record of 6-2-0. The Predators are 21-8-1 against Central Division teams... The Preds, who wore their third jerseys for the last time this season, went 10-2 in the gold... Scratches for the Predators Saturday were Tomas Vokoun, Marek Zidlicky, Scottie Upshall, David Legwand, Jordin Tootoo, Ryan Suter and Steve Sullivan... Attendance at the Gaylord Entertainment Center was 15,023.
Video: Watch the game highlights (1:00)
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (8:48)
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