Vern Fiddler scored with 2:21 left to break a 1-1 tie and lead the Nashville Predators to an eventual 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night at the United Center in Chicago. With their lineup reduced to only four healthy defensemen for the remainder of the game, the Predators shut down a critical five-minute Chicago power play early in the third period to keep the game deadlocked. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun was sharp while stopping 30 of 31 shots and Scott Nichol added an empty-net goal at 19:17.
With the victory, the Predators improve to 35-12-3 and take the lead in the season series against the Blackhawks 4 games to 3. Nashville, the NHL's top team, increased its gap over both the Buffalo Sabres and the Detroit Red Wings Friday, as those two clubs lost.
A fast and quiet first period featured a chance by Jason Arnott in the opening minute of play and sharp performances by Vokoun and his counterpart Nikolai Khabibulin. Vokoun stopped all 13 shots he faced while Khabibulin stopped all 10 Predators shots. Arnott accounted for the only penalty of the period and Nashville's penalty killers successfully defused Chicago's subsequent two-minute power play.
Defenseman Kevin Klein, who was recalled from Nashville's minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee earlier on Friday, scored 5:40 into the second period to give the Predators the lead. It was the first career NHL goal for Klein, who stepped into the lineup for sidelined blueliner Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky was placed on the injured reserve list Friday with the flu. On Klein's goal, Arnott and J.P. Dumont were in front but the puck deflected in off of a defender and past Khabibulin to make it 1-0.
Young Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook tied it at 1-1 late in the second. Chicago's leading scorer, forward Martin Havlat, started the play using his speed to carry the puck into the left side of the zone. He captured the rebound of his own missed shot and set up Seabrook at the blue line for a blast that beat Vokoun at 15:07.
The Predators went down one defenseman when captain Kimmo Timonen left the game during the second period with flu symptoms. They then lost Dan Hamhuis early in the third when he was given a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct at the 4:36 mark. The Blackhawks were briefly down to four blueliners themselves after losing Jim Vandermeer early in the game then watching Seabrook, who was on the receiving end of Hamhuis' penalized hit, head for the locker room. Seabrook returned minutes later.
Hamhuis' penalty gave Chicago a prime opportunity--five minutes of a 5-on-4 manpower advantage--to take the home team's first lead of the game. Nashville's penalty killers had the answer, though, limiting the Blackhawks to only two shots on net over the five-minute span.
As the end of regulation approached, rookie winger Alexander Radulov made a nice play to feed Fiddler down low. Fiddler got the puck past the stingy Khabibulin with 2:21 remaining to put the Predators on top 2-1.
Chicago pulled Khabibulin in the final minute and applied lots of offensive pressure, but Vokoun turned aside a challenging deflection shot and David Legwand delivered the puck up to Nichol for an empty-net goal with 43 seconds remaining.
Nashville now heads to St. Louis for a 7:00 p.m. CT showdown with the Blues Saturday at Scottrade Center.