Jeffrey Hamilton scored a career-high three goals, including the overtime winner, and the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 on Saturday night. Chicago is 3-0 under Savard, who replaced the fired Trent Yawney on Monday, and is perfect in three games against Nashville this season.
“The coaching change is one thing, but to say this is the reason we are playing better reflects poorly on the players,” Hamilton said. “The easiest thing to do is to replace the coach. Savard came in right away and told us what he expected. He was positive with everybody.”
Nashville coach Barry Trotz had enough trouble with the old version of the Blackhawks. The new and improved group caused him even more concerns.
“Chicago played a real solid game,” Trotz said. “Savard has changed the lineup. They are a lot more aggressive. They have a lot of small guys with a lot of quickness. They have some momentum after beating Dallas, St. Louis and us.”
Hamilton provided the difference when he skated in low in the slot and one-timed a pass from Patrick Sharp to the right of Nashville goalie Chris Mason 59 seconds into the extra session.
“We should have stayed harder on the puck,” Trotz said. “We sort of backed off and gave Chicago a little bit of space. If we had stayed on the puck we could have created a bit more havoc by getting in the shot lanes a little stronger.
“They made a pinpoint pass right through the crease area, and Hamilton buried it.”
Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen had a goal and assist each, and Shea Weber also scored for the Predators.
Tony Salmelainen had the other Blackhawks goal, his third in three games.
Hamilton scored unassisted 30 seconds into the game when he sent a shot from the right corner along the goal line that went between Mason’s pads and the goal post.
Hartnell answered on the power play at 18:12 to tie it 1-1.
Salmelainen gave Chicago a 2-1 lead at 10:50 of the second period. He skated low through the left side of the slot and shot the puck into the right side of the net below Mason’s glove.
The Predators outshot Chicago 15-7 in the second period, with Weber and Timonen scoring goals 23 seconds apart.
Savard used Nashville’s scoring surge as a motivational tool.
“I told our guys after the second period that they had to believe,” Savard said. “It was as simple as that.”
Weber scored from above the right circle on a one-timer that went past Nikolai Khabibulin on his glove side at 13:52.
Timonen found the net at 14:15, scoring through traffic low in the slot.
Hamilton tied it with 34 seconds left in regulation, shooting from the left side of the crease over Mason as he was outstretched on the ice.
“The third periods have been great for us,” Savard said. “That’s a sign of good conditioning. Hamilton’s line has been going good. And as long as it is, that line is going to play a lot.”
The third period has been a problem area for the Predators.
“We have to learn how to protect a lead,” Timonen said. “When there is a minute to go we have to make sure we don’t give up any chances. We didn’t play our game. If we had played our game I don’t think this team could have matched our speed and skill level. We have to learn from this.”
Notes: Salmelainen has a four-game point streak (three goals, one assist). … With the goals by Weber and Timonen, Nashville’s defencemen have scored 19 goals this season. … Khabibulin is 4-2 since returning from a broken finger.