If there’s one thing Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne loves, it’s playing in a shootout.
Marcel Goc scored the only goal in the shootout with Rinne stopping Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and the Predators rallied from a two-goal deficit after two periods to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Saturday night.
Nashville forward Jerred Smithson said the Blackhawks outworked and outplayed the Predators through the first two periods.
”If it wasn’t for Pekka there, it very easily could have been six-nothing going into the third,” Smithson said.
Rinne wound up stopping 31 shots, and the goalie won his fifth shootout this season to improve to 16-7 for his career.
”The crowd was going crazy. It was such a good atmosphere going into overtime and the shootout,” Rinne said. ”This time Goc made a big goal in the shootout, and I was able to stop those shooters. Sometimes, I don’t know, you just have to trust your instincts, and I enjoy those situations.”
Goc took the first shot in the shootout for Nashville, and Rinne made it stand up by stopping Toews and gloving Kane’s shot. Patrick Sharp had a last chance, but his shot went wide of the net.
Nashville captain and All-Star Shea Weber and Smithson each scored less than four minutes apart in the third period. Joel Ward had two assists.
Tomas Kopecky scored a power-play goal, and Viktor Stalberg had a goal for Chicago.
The Predators have won three of the first four games in this Central Division rivalry against the team that ousted them from the playoffs in the opening round last April. The teams meet again Sunday night in Chicago as the Predators start a six-game road trip that’ll be their longest this season.
”It was a good way to start,” coach Barry Trotz said. ”The last home game of the month, do something that was worthwhile.”
The game had a playoff atmosphere with fans chanting back and forth during intermissions, and the Blackhawks appeared to be cruising to a fourth straight win.
”We had them right where we wanted them,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. ”Obviously, they got a little life off their goal, and the building got loud. They made a bang-bang play, and the wrong guy shot it. They had a good third period. We should have nailed it. That was a good opportunity for us.”
Rookie goaltender Corey Crawford extended his shutout streak to 126 minutes, 23 seconds by keeping the Predators off the scoreboard through the first two periods. The Blackhawks outshot Nashville 23-12 through to that point and 33-26 for the game.
Crawford said he didn’t care about his shutout streak ending.
”At least we came out of this one with one (point). I think we could have had two there,” he said.
Nashville came alive in the third period to win for the seventh time in eight games and remain just ahead of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the division.
Nick Spaling found Smithson in front of the net with a nice backhanded pass that Smithson snapped past Crawford at 9:46. Despite a heavy dose of Chicago red in the stands, the fans gave the Predators a standing ovation through a timeout, and the Predators paid them back for the support by scoring off the ensuing faceoff.
Ward passed the puck over to Ryan Suter, who found Weber alone near the blue line, and he fired off his powerful slap shot into the net at 12:20 to tie the game.
”Anytime you have a guy with a shot like that, you want to utilize it,” Smithson said. ”You just battle hard and try to win that draw. The way he shoots the puck, anything can happen, and he found a way to put a goal in.”
In the overtime, Rinne helped the Predators get to the shootout as he stopped Marian Hossa twice, and his best save of the night came with 1:26 left in the extra period. Hossa corralled the puck after Suter lost it and fed Sharp on a breakaway only to be stopped by a sprawling Rinne at the post.
”It’s frustrating that we couldn’t get it done,” Toews said.
Chicago went up 1-0 after Ward missed a shot wide on a breakaway chance for a shorthanded goal. Kopecky flipped a wrister over Rinne for the 1-0 lead at 14:59 and his eighth goal this season. Stalberg padded Chicago’s lead at 4:29 of the second with a wrister for his seventh this season.
NOTES: Weber extended his career high points streak to eight straight games. … Blackhawks D Niklas Hjalmarsson started after missing practice the last couple days. … Spaling now has a point in three straight games. … Nashville came in tied for second in the NHL on the penalty kill after stopping 25 of 26 coming into this game. … The Predators came in ranked first in killing penalties on home ice, having allowed only four power-play goals on 56 opportunities before giving Kopecky’s goal.