Chicago’s biggest off-season acquisition, Havlat had two goals and two assists to lead the Blackhawks to an 8-6 victory over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night in the teams’ season opener. The victory ended a six-game winless skid in Nashville, Chicago’s first win here since Nov. 7, 2003. The Blackhawks rallied from 2-0 and 4-3 deficits.
“I really like the guys battled back, especially early in the game,” Chicago coach Trent Yawney said. “There was no quit in them, and they deserve a lot of credit.”
Havlat got them started. The forward, picked up in a three-team trade from Ottawa in July, scored on a breakaway less than 30 seconds after Nashville went up 2-0 in the first five minutes of the game.
“A 1-0 win would’ve been the same feeling,” Havlat said.
Havlat’s empty-net goal with 54.8 seconds left came after David Legwand and Steve Sullivan had scored in a four-minute span, the last at 18:23, to pull Nashville within 7-6. The Predators squandered a 4-3 lead when Chicago scored four straight goals starting at the end of the second period.
Rene Bourque scored shorthanded four minutes into the third, then added an assist on Bryan Smolinski’s goal at 9:40. Smolinski assisted on Radim Vrbata’s goal late in the third.
Martin LaPointe and Michal Handzus each added a goal and an assist for Chicago.
Legwand finished with two goals and an assist for Nashville, and Ryan Suter had two assists.
Chicago, one of the NHL’s original six franchises, came into this season trailing the series with the one-time expansion Predators 19-18-4 and had not won in six straight games in Nashville.
But Patrick Sharp tipped a sloppy pass from Sullivan to Bourque, skated up the left side and shot the puck through the legs of Tomas Vokoun for a 5-4 lead Chicago wouldn’t lose.
Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin stopped Scott Hartnell from in front of the crease twice in the next few minutes and helped a team that finished with the third-fewest points in the NHL last season start off with the victory by stopping 40 shots.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said his Predators had 33 scoring chances, but only managed two goals on 15 shots in the third period.
Yawney said Khabibulin’s saves came when needed most.
“Even though he gives up six, he deserves to get the win with the number of good saves he made,” Yawney said.
Havlat got Chicago on the board after falling behind 2-0, scoring on breakaway in the first. He skated up and fed the puck to LaPointe at the mouth of the crease for an easy power-play goal at 14:24 of the second that tied it at four.
Nashville paid for putting most of its money toward offence by signing Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont with five young defencemen. Captain Kimmo Timonen came in with 493 games’ NHL experience compared to 418 for his five fellow defencemen.
“I think that was a good wake-up call for us,” Timonen said. “We got a lot of offence, but we can’t win games like that.”
With little help, Vokoun looked very rusty in his first game that counts since April 1. He missed the final eight games last season because of blood clots that kept him out of the playoffs.
“We knew they were a dangerous team,” Vokoun said. “I don’t think the team were listening good. We were listening to it, but we didn’t believe it, and they showed us.”
Notes: The eight goals allowed ties the most Nashville has ever given up. … Chicago went 13-1-4 last season when scoring four or more goals. … This is the 22nd time Nashville has scored six or more goals but the first time to do so and lose. … Arnott’s penalty in the second period put him at 1,001 penalty minutes in his career. … Original Predators captain Tom Fitzgerald, who recently retired from the NHL after 17 years, dropped the ceremonial puck.