Two quick goals in the first minute of the second period made all the difference Tuesday night, as the Nashville Predators gave up a lead and lost 4-2 to the Chicago Blackhawks. Combined with the way St. Louis routed the Coyotes in Phoenix, this leaves the Preds on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, a lousy place to be with only two games remain ing.
The Preds hung with Chicago during the first period, getting outshot 10-7 but taking the lead on a power play goal by Vern Fiddler; he was trying to feed J.P. Dumont on front of the net, but the puck bounced off a Chicago defender behind Nikolai Khabibulin, who seemed to have difficulty with a number of Nashville shots.
Right away in the second period, however, things went completely awry. Jonathan Toews was allowed to come down the right wing and let off an uncontested shot, which beat Pekka Rinne cleanly to tie the game. Just moments later, power forward Dustin Byfuglien camped out on top of the crease and pounded home a loose puck to give Chicago the 2-1 lead, and from there, the Blackhawks didn't look back.
A real dagger came about 10 minutes later, when an all-too casual Dan Hamhuis turned the puck over deep in the Preds zone and Patrick Kane converted on the opportunity to push the lead to 3-1. It's not a surprise to some that Hamhuis came up dead-last in my "MVP of the Preds" analysis from yesterday.
While early in the 3rd Jason Arnott scored his 30th goal of the season on a fine "charge the net" play, tapping home a nice feed from Steve Sullivan, the Predators just couldn't execute offensively like the Blackhawks did when the chances presented themselves. The sellout crowd gave them another standing ovation, but Chicago's forwards kept disrupting the play and Nashville didn't get much in the way of quality shots down the stretch.
From here, the road leads to Detroit on Thursday, and Minnesota on Friday to close out the Predators regular season. In all likelihood, it will take two victories in those games, combined with St. Louis dropping one of their final two games, for the Preds to make the postseason for the fifth consecutive time.