The Nashville Predators traveled to Chicago to face off in the second game of a critical three-game series against the Blackhawks tonight. The Predators’ 5-2 win over the Blackhawks on Monday gave Nashville a four-point lead over Chicago for the coveted fourth playoff spot in the Central Division.
While the Preds faced the Hawks on the ice tonight, the outcome had implications with another team in the playoff race. Tonight’s game was not just about beating Chicago, but also about giving the Predators every point they can get over a surging Dallas Stars team—just one point back of Nashville at the start of the game, with two games in hand.
Perhaps the most anticipated return of an injury-riddled season was Eeli Tolvanen, back after dealing with a lower body injury. Tolvanen’s presence has been especially missed on the Predators’ power play, which became anemic without him on the wing. A hot Juuse Saros started for the Predators in net, while the Blackhawks gave the goaltending nod to Malcolm Subban.
How did the Predators handle the growing playoff pressure and a determined Blackhawks team? Let’s take a look.
The Predators started the much beloved and physical Herd line, featuring Yakov Trenin, Colton Sissons, and Tanner Jeannot (in for a still-injured Matthieu Olivier). The Predators got the first shot on goal from Roman Josi, and the Blackhawks returned the favor immediately, but neither team found the back of the net.
The Predators’ fourth line applied consistent pressure to Subban, but the Blackhawks regrouped. An unusual (and frustrating) Roman Josi turnover led to a Chicago two-on-one, and Chicago’s Pius Suter scored at 4:14.
The fast pace continued through the period. Each team had their chances with offensive zone time. There was a brief and hearty “meet and greet” at a whistle over an unappreciated hit by Kunin, but no penalty until a holding call against Ryan Ellis put the Blackhawks on the power play at 11:29. The penalty kill was challenged for the entire two minutes, but the Predators held fast.
After what looked like a sure thing for Ryan Johansen, he immediately redeemed himself with a pass through the neutral zone to Victor Arvidsson. Arvidsson slipped a wraparound pass to a waiting Eeli Tolvanen right in front of the net, and Tolvy sent the puck through the five-hole for the Predators’ first goal at 14:16.
The teams each took turns threatening offensively, but the period ended tied 1-1.
The Blackhawks returned to the ice without defender Calvin de Haan. The Blackhawks were given the first chance of the period just :37 seconds in with a cross-checking call against Erik Gudbranson. The two-minute man advantage expired with several chances but no goal.
Each team faced defensive challenges when they couldn’t clear the puck out of the zone cleanly. One of those turnovers led to a great chance for Josi, but he couldn’t corral the puck past Subban.
Preds fans collectively whooped when Chicago’s Ryan Carpenter tripped up Ryan Ellis at 7:12, putting the Preds on the power play with a returning Eeli Tolvanen. Eeli’s first shot went high and put out of play off a deflection. The second unit came on, but the Predators couldn’t capitalize on the penalty. A big save by Saros on the rush at the end of the power play and a Subban snag of an Arvidsson breakaway chance kept the game tied midway through the period.
The Predators applied the screws to a tired Blackhawks crew, peppering Subban with shot after shot. The puck finally cleared, but a quickly reloading fourth line lofted the puck to a waiting Sissons who buried it at 13:39, giving the Predators a 2-1 lead.
With a mere eight seconds to go, Mattias Ekholm brought the puck through the neutral zone and passed it to Mikhail Granlund, who took the puck in and swizzled it around Malcolm Subban with 1.4 seconds left in the second period. Playing from puck drop to buzzer gave the Predators a 3-1 lead going into the third period.
The Predators continued the momentum of that last second Granlund goal, and scored on a textbook score with assists from Josi and Granlund to Luke Kunin at :58. (Coincidentally, Connor Murphy lost his helmet at the same time, so there may be some hockey helmet voodoo going on.) The Preds quickly made it 4-1.
A frustrated Adam Boqvist was called for cross-checking Tolvanen at 1:52, and the Predators went on the man advantage. Despite having Tolvanen back in the lineup, the Predators again couldn’t score on the power play.
The Predators didn’t take their foot off the gas, pestering and frustrating the Blackhawks in every zone. The Predators continued to harass Subban with pressure and shots, and the Hawks struggled for a stretch to get anything going. When they finally got possession established in the offensive zone, Wyatt Kalynuk took advantage of a hobbled Roman Josi to score the Blackhawks’ second goal of the game at 10:04.
Momentum shifted with that goal, and then Vinnie Hinostroza came back at Juuse Saros less than a minute later to narrow the gap to a one-goal lead.
The Predators needed to dig deep for the remaining nine minutes of the final period, but the Blackhawks weren’t interested in giving up the momentum. Dominic Kubalek snagged the puck behind the net on a soft pass from Ellis and tied the game at 12:55.
Three goals in three minutes for the Blackhawks and a subsequent double-minor penalty on Victor Arvidsson for high sticking were going to test the resolve of the Predators. Maintaining their composure would be a challenge for the team. Despite the four-minute power play, the Blackhawks weren’t able to really threaten Saros and the teams returned to a very tense five-a-side.
The Predators focused their attack in the final minutes of the period, with Matt Duchene and Erik Haula nearly scoring, but regulation ended with a surprising 4-4 tie.
The Predators got the first chance in OT with a shot from Calle Järnkrok, but Subban wasn’t willing to give up the game winner. On their first possession, the Blackhawks set up, but the Preds swarmed and eventually recovered. Matt Duchene again had a solid chance but couldn’t finish. The Blackhawks’ Brandon Hagel stole the win with a top-shelf shot at 3:00 in overtime.
Blackhawks win in OT, 5-4.
- While the Predators didn’t appear to completely fall apart, they ultimately...fell apart. The team remained composed and had chances to bounce back in the third and to win in overtime, but just didn’t get it done.
- It came down to goaltending. Subban had a handful of amazing saves that on other nights might have been goals. Saros came down to earth with the three quick goals in the third period.
- This game was important. What the Preds do after this loss becomes critical. The team has shown mental toughness and a resilience that will be tested after a disheartening loss like this. How the Predators play on Friday will reveal who this team really is.