One lucky bounce and suddenly the Nashville Predators are little more than a hop, skip and a jump from the top of the National Hockey League standings.
Kevin Klein’s seemingly harmless shot from the center ice red line bounced once and got past goalie Corey Crawford for one of the most unlikely goals of the season. Regardless, it was the first of three that Nashville scored in the second period as it pulled away for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday before a sellout crowd, which included a significant percentage of Blackhawks fans, at Bridgestone Arena.
With two games remaining before the All-Star break the Predators are five points behind Detroit, which has the league’s best record.
“Obviously, Kleiner’s bomb from the red line started a little bit of a change,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “Those are hard. … At that point, that really changed the momentum against a tired hockey team.
“… We really responded after that, really took the momentum and carried it right through.”
Chicago was tired because it played a night earlier at home against Florida (a 3-1 victory). Its travel to Nashville was disrupted by snow in that area and the team did not arrive until the middle of the night.
Even so, the Blackhawks scored first and led for a little more than two minutes of the first period.
Klein’s goal made it 2-1 at 5:15 of the second. His intent was just to allow for a line change. Instead, he changed the game completely.
“The ice was getting a little rough out there … and I just decided to try to put a little English on it on net, and I got a lucky bounce. I knew some of the guys were going for a change, so I just tried to flutter it in there.”
By the end of the second period, the lead was 4-1.
Klein added an assist early in the third period when Patric Hornqvist redirected his shot into the net. That answered Marian Hossa’s second goal of the night 2:20 earlier and restored a level of comfort that had noticeably vanished when the lead dropped to two.
Hornqvist (goal, assist), Sergei Kostitsyn (goal, assist) and David Legwand (two assists) also had multiple points for Nashville.
“As soon as we responded there — Kleiner’s shot from the point — that sort of put an end, I thought, to the surge,” Trotz said.
The victory was the Predators’ 10th in their last 12 games and their ninth in 13 games against Central Division opponents this season.
Nashville is one of nine teams in the league with at least 60 points. Three of the other eight are Detroit (65), St. Louis (64) and Chicago (64) – also Central Division teams.
The Predators and Blackhawks will play again Tuesday in Chicago, a day after Nashville plays at home against Columbus.
“They had a little bit of trouble getting in here [Friday] night … [and] we really used that to our advantage,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “That was a really key thing. And we scored on out chances — that was the biggest thing.”
They even scored on one that wasn’t much of a chance.
“[Klein’s goal] was a real momentum-changer,” Rinne said. “It’s tough for any team. That’s a lucky goal for us and an unlucky goal for them. It’s one of those things that happens once in a 100 games or so or once in a season.
“I’m just happy that it happened for us, but that really changed the momentum for us.”
• Defenseman Francis Bouillon was injured late in the first period and did not return. The official word from the team was that he sustained an upper body injury.
Nashville was left with five defensemen for the remainder of the contest. Four of the five played more than 20 minutes, led by Shea Weber’s 29:08.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Trotz said. “We’ll have a better idea [Sunday] or Monday.”
Ryan Suter missed his third straight game with an upper body injury.
• Forward Brendan Yip, claimed off waivers from Colorado on Friday, made his Predators debut. He played 10:22 and did not have a shot on goal.
His most memorable moment was a thunderous hit during his second shift on Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador.
“He was strong on the boards and he’s got good pace to his game,” Trotz said. “… I thought he won chances on the wall and his play without the puck seemed pretty good.”