On the schedule, Saturday’s game simply looked like the start of a home-and-home set between two National Hockey League franchises.
Inside Bridgestone Arena, it provided an alternate interpretation of the term ‘home-and-home.’ An almost equally distribution of loyalty among the sellout crowd gave both the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks reason to feel at home.
Ultimately, it was the Blackhawks’ fans who went home happy given that their team won 1-0 and took with them momentum for Sunday’s return match at Chicago (6 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).
“You want to keep it simple, keep it smart [because] you know you’re playing back-to-back,” defenseman Hal Gill said. “We have to have that urgent mentality right now. We just didn’t have enough of it [Saturday].”
The battle for superiority in the stands was more competitive than the one on the ice, where Nashville spent an inordinate amount of time playing defense.
The final shot total was 30-20 in Chicago’s favor but the difference in possession time was more evident in the fact that the Predators delivered 28 hits to the Blackhawks’ eight and had 12 different players record at least one blocked shot. Nashville forward Rich Clune had almost as many hits (seven) than Chicago’s entire team.
“They spent a lot of time in our zone,” captain Shea Weber said. “They didn’t have a lot of great, quality chances. They had some good ones but [goalie Pekka Rinne] played well. But that zone time does start to wear on you when you spend a lot of it in your own end.”
The last gasp came after right wing Patric Hornqvist hustled back and kept the Blackhawks from scoring into an empty net with 90 seconds to go. The Predators registered one more shot but had several opportunities after that yet still endured their seventh shutout defeat of the season.
"That's a team that you've really got to play some boring hockey against," Chicago goalie Ray Emery said. "... We got an early lead [and] we were really mindful of not giving them anything."
Still, both sides found reason to cheer.
Not since the NHL’s earliest days in Middle Tennessee, when Detroit Red Wings faithful routinely showed up en masse, had an opposing fan base been so well-represented. The upper deck was decidedly pro-Nashville but the lower and club levels were pretty equally divided between those in yellow and those in red.
Predators’ supporters roared through all their rituals and on-demand cheers as they worked to maintain their turf. They also did their best to make the most noise when Chicago’s backers injected their own brand of atmosphere into the proceedings.
The Blackhawks, though, gave their fans the more compelling reasons to cheer – most notably Bryan Bickell’s goal on their first shot of the game that capped a perfectly executed two-on-one, and a successful kill of a four-minute, third-period Nashville power play after Daniel Carcillo caught Weber with a high stick.
“Guys gave everything they had and almost got that thing tied up,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… I’m not disappointed at all in anybody’s effort. And quite frankly that’s a pretty good hockey team.”
• Briefly: Center Paul Gaustad was out with a reoccurrence of an upper body injury and Trotz said. “He’s out for the next couple games, for sure.” Gausted now has been sidelined four times for a total of 16 games. … Defenseman Ryan Ellis was reassigned to Milwaukee following a brief return to the Predators. He played in Thursday’s loss to Columbus in place of Victor Bartley, who was out with an illess. Bartley was back in the lineup against Chicago and played 19:16, slightly more than his season average of 18:44.