Leads have been difficult for the Nashville Predators to come by recently.
When they finally got one against the Chicago Blackhawks, it proved about as difficult to hold.
Good thing for them that the shootout provides finality in the form of a decisive goal on the scoreboard.
Nashville won its second straight by a shootout when it dispatched Chicago 4-3 on Saturday before a sellout crowd of 17,113, which included a significant number of Blackhawks’ jerseys, at Bridgestone Arena.
Cal O’Reilly converted for the Predators in the first round of the shootout and goalie Pekka Rinne made that one stand up with saves against the final two shooters he faced.
“I loved our resiliency, I loved our effort,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… That’s how we’re going to win – plain and simple – gut it out every night.”
The Predators had the upper hand on the Blackhawks for all of 1:32 before they allowed a pair of second-period goals in a span 2:29.
It appeared they tied it at 3-3 just over a minute into the third period, but a video review determined that Patric Hornqvist kicked the puck into the Chicago net. The final deadlock actually came with 9:37 to play in regulation when Hornqvist set a screen that allowed Cody Franson to score from the right point.
“It went so quickly that I didn’t even think about (the fact that) we were up when I thought back through the game,” Hornqvist said. “Always, three or four shifts there after we score we have to be more disciplined … and have a little more defense in our thinking.
“But we battled through that and got two points. That’s the biggest thing at the end of the night.”
Shea Weber put Nashville ahead 2-1 at 5:19 of the second period when he blasted a shot under the right arm of Blackhawks’ goalie Marty Turco.
It was the first time since Nov. 3 at Phoenix that the Predators played with a lead. Even in Thursday’s victory at St. Louis, they were behind or tied throughout all of regulation and overtime and only got the upper hand when game ended with Marcel Goc’s successful attempt to cap the fourth round of the shootout.
After being on top of the Coyotes twice (the second time for 11:39 which included the first 4:23 of the third period), they fell behind Los Angeles 4-0 on Nov. 6 and never rallied. A day later at Anaheim they came from behind and tied the score four times before they surrendered the game-winner with fewer than two seconds to play.
“We haven’t had the lead a whole lot and I think we’re better with the lead because we check really well,” Trotz said. “When you’re chasing the game trying to get it tied up it’s pretty taxing on your team mentally.
“But … you also talk about defining a backbone by staying in it and finding ways to win, I think that’s what those moments are. And I think our team has a lot of backbone.”
Chicago struck first in this one when Jack Skille scored with less than a minute to play in the first period. Skille put the Blackhawks on top again when he scored with 10:50 to play in the second period.
Consequently, the Blackhawks were on top for 24:43 – more than one-third of regulation and significantly longer than Nashville.
“It’s situations like that that give teams character in terms of being able to battle through adversity,” Franson said. “… When we do lose leads, we have to be ready for that. We’re not going to have the lead every game we play and we have to learn to keep it.”
• Defenseman Ryan Suter and Martin Erat came off the injured reserve list and returned to the lineup.
Suter stepped right back into the top defense pairing opposite Weber and played 22:06, which was fourth among Nashville defensemen. Erat started on a line with Goc and Jordin Tootoo and played 15:36.
Both Suter and Erat saw action on the power play and penalty kill.
“I was happy with both of those guys,” Trotz said.
• Weber’s goal was scored on the power play, the first for the Predators in four games and just their second in the last nine. It was Weber’s first power-play goal of the season and 31st all-time, which moved him into sole possession of fourth place on the franchise’s career list, one ahead of Scott Hartnell.
• Three Predators –Weber, Suter and Rinne – are among the 100 players on the NHL All-Star ballot.
Online voting begins Monday at nhl.com/vote and at facebook.com/NHL and continues through Jan. 3. Fans vote for six players, regardless of conference, as part of a new All-Star format. There is no limit to the number of times one person can vote.
Chicago has the more players on the ballot (six) than any other team.