This had all the feel of a game where the ‘Hawks led the whole way only to give up a late goal and lose in overtime.
Fail to cash in on several power play attempts: Check.
Control flow of the entire game only to lose it with a few minutes left: Check.
Fail to capitalize on prime scoring opportunities including ringing shots off the post: Check.
Defensemen getting pinch crazy: Check.
Good thing the ‘Hawks have Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin shut down everything the Predators brought his way the last six minutes of the game. He didn’t make any highlight reel save, just the ones he had to for the ‘Hawks to hold on for the home and home split.
The ‘Hawks opened up the scoring with Dustin Byfuglien ripping one in on the power play. Nashville tied it up two minutes later when Jordin Tootoo came screaming down the wing. Khabibulin committed a little too much to the near post, Seabrook committed a little less to Martin Erat barrelling down the slot, and it was academic.
The Predators had their chance to take the lead early in the second frame. Tootoo led a 3-on-2 rush, dropped it to Shea Weber who fired a shot on net. Khabibulin couldn’t control the rebound and Tootoo had an empty net staring back at him. He missed. Havlat picked up the loose puck, fired a great backhand pass to Andrew Ladd, and the ‘Hawks had a 2-on-2 counter attack. Ladd took the blue line, cut across the slot, and shot across his body. During that time, Dave Bolland was bowling towards the net. Standing right next to Dan Ellis and a loose puck, Bolland took it off Ellis’ pad and put it past his outstrecthed glove. Just like that it was 2-1 ‘Hawks instead of 2-1 Preds.
After the goal, Nashville gave Chicago every opportunity to put them away. Antti Pihlstrom took a selfish penalty in the offensive zone two and a half minutes after the goal. The ‘Hawks couldn’t sustain any pressure. The Preds took another penalty six minutes later and controlled the puck for the most of their penalty kill. Certainly Nashville deserves a ton of credit because their penalty kill unit is nails but the ‘Hawks couldn’t muster any kind of attack. Then when defenseman Greg Zanon rode Patrick Kane hard into the boards to end the period, it seemed to light a fire under the ‘Hawks to open the third.
It was prime scoring chances galore in the third for the ‘Hawks. Patrick Kane led an odd man rush only to hold on to the puck too long. Dave Bolland was stoned on a breakaway. Ben Eager, seeing time with the second line, lasered one from just outside the hashmarks into Ellis’ glove. Patrick Sharp blasted one that squeezed past Ellis only to trickle wide. Martin Havlat topped them all. On one shift in particular, he got the puck at the blue line deked past two Predators, went to his backhand and let off a video game shot ticketed for the top corner. Instead he drew iron. Then, he picked up a loose puck at the red line and came in 2-on-1 with Andrew Ladd. He fed a saucer pass to Ladd’s backhand who re-directed it off Ellis’ leg. Did I mention the ‘Hawks had a lot of scoring chances in the third?
The Ladd backhand seemed to be a precursor to impending doom. It wasn’t. Even though assistant coach Mike Haviland tried his best. With a little under a minute left, the best defensive pair he could come up with after Keith and Seabrook was James Wisniewski and Cam Barker. After Nashville predictably had a plethora of shots, Khabibulin froze the puck and Koopa Troopa (Nashville coach Barry Trotz) used his lone timeout. The breather allowed Keith and Seabrook to return to the ice. The Predators didn’t sustain much of an attack after. Havlat buried a much deserved empty-netter and that was the ball game.
It was a big win for the ‘Hawks. They halted a two game losing streak which threatened to last a lot longer. Goals aren’t coming in bunches for them right now. After they seemed to be able to score goals at will, it seems to be harder than not staring at the Ice Crew when they bend over right in front of their bench. Any two points they can grab during this dry spell will go a long way in securing the 4th seed.