It was a classic Saturday night in Smashville.
Eeli Tolvanen scored his first NHL goal and the Nashville Predators defeated the Chicago Blackhawks by a 5-2 final at Bridgestone Arena. The victory ends Nashville's two-game skid and gives them 18 wins on the season, more than any other club in the Western Conference.
The win was also Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette's 200th victory with the Predators, the first time he's hit the mark with any of the four NHL clubs he's coached in his career.
After a lackluster effort in a 3-0 loss to Arizona on Thursday that the Predators said wasn't acceptable, a Saturday night meeting in their own barn against the Blackhawks may have been just what they needed.
"Tonight was 100 percent on the players for their response," Laviolette said. "For me, the leadership group and the players get the credit. It was a much better game, and I thought under the circumstances, it was one of our best team wins of the year."
The Predators exploded from the start of Saturday's skirmish, scoring three goals in the first five minutes of a game for the first time in franchise history.
First, it was Kevin Fiala who potted his fourth of the season at the 2:11 mark, and then Tolvanen roofed a backhand for his first in the NHL at 3:32 to send the crowd into a frenzy once more. Ryan Johansen then chimed in at 4:11 to cap off a feverish opening and make a decisive statement on the night.
Video: CHI@NSH: Johansen scores, continues Preds' fast start
"It was exactly what we needed and exactly how we had to come out of the gates," Johansen said. "It was definitely a huge part in our win tonight."
Then, Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith wracked up 29 penalty minutes on the same play, leading to an extended Nashville power play. However, it was Brandon Saad who got the Blackhawks on the board when he tallied while shorthanded, but Craig Smith got it back on the man advantage for a 4-1 Preds lead after 20 minutes.
Video: CHI@NSH: Smith snipes one for power-play goal
Artem Anisimov scored the lone goal of the second period to give Chicago some life, but Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne was stellar as usual, and Austin Watson sailed a puck into an empty cage as time wound down in regulation to seal the result.
"We had a tough practice [Friday] and everybody was pretty angry," Fiala said. "Today, we brought it to the game. Everybody was still pissed off about the last game and this was a great response."
The win came as the Predators continue to battle injury woes as well. With Viktor Arvidsson, Kyle Turris and P.K. Subban already on Injured Reserve, forward Filip Forsberg joined that group prior to Saturday's game, and center Nick Bonino was also absent against the Hawks due to illness.
But, no matter.
With Tolvanen already recalled prior to the game, winger Anthony Richard also got the call and arrived at Bridgestone Arena just in time to suit up for his first NHL contest.
Thanks in part to their efforts, Nashville produced a win that felt just about as good as any of their 18 thus far.
"It's huge motivation," Johansen said. "The two young guys we were just talking about (Tolvanen and Richard), we have to step up. Guys need to step up, including myself, including Pekka Rinne and Roman Josi. We need everyone stepping up right now throughout our whole lineup. That'll be motivation every game."
Video: CHI@NSH: Tolvanen nets Smith's feed for first goal
Cool, Calm, Collected:
Prior to his first game of the season - and fourth NHL contest of his young professional career - 19-year-old Eeli Tolvanen declared he was feeling less nervous and more confident than he ever had before.
It took him just 3:32 into Saturday's contest to prove it.
Recalled earlier that morning from AHL Milwaukee, Tolvanen tallied his first in the NHL when he took a feed from Craig Smith and backhanded a shot into the twine. The goal helped lead to undoubtedly his most complete night on an NHL ice sheet, one that Tolvanen was happy to produce.
"I felt like I was more comfortable with the game system and all the guys there and the coaching staff," Tolvanen said. "I've been playing in the AHL for two months, and I think it's helped me a lot with my defensive game and just being more comfortable out there."
"When he gets those opportunities in front of the net like he did tonight, it shows the talent he has to put the puck in the net," Laviolette said. "I thought the way he moved up and down the ice was great. He looked more mature and more experienced in this rink with less time and less space. He really worked harder in the areas that he needed to improve on."
From his first three NHL games in March of last season, Tolvanen impressed his teammates and coaches with a renewed sense of poise, contributing in all areas of the ice throughout the night.
And while it's a small sample size for a player who is still a teenager, it could also be a sign of what Tolvanen may indeed be capable of at this level for years to come.
"For him, he just has to play with no fear," Johansen said of Tolvanen. "You just have to go out there and work. Mistakes are going to happen, and you have to make the mistakes, but just go out there when stakes are high and play your game… For him, he just has to do that as much as he can starting off his young career."
"To me, he looked better and different than he did in training camp," Laviolette said of Tolvanen. "When it comes down to it, he made really good decisions with the puck and he was good defensively. So, all in all, it was a good night for him."
Video: Laviolette earns 200th win as Preds top Blackhawks
Anthony Richard became the 273rd player to appear in a regular-season game in Preds franchise history and the first to wear No. 90. He skated 7:22 of ice time on the night.
Eeli Tolvanen's became the 177th player in Preds franchise history to score a goal.
The Preds scored three goals on their first four shots of the game for the second time in franchise history (also: Feb. 12, 2008 vs. DET).
Nashville concludes their five-game homestand on Monday night as they host former Assistant Coach Phil Housley and the Buffalo Sabres at Bridgestone Arena.