Jeff Hamilton’s third-period goal leads Blackhawks to 3-1 win over Predators

But it was Jeff Hamilton, a forward who came to training camp on a tryout basis, who set the stage for Chicago’s win. Hamilton scored on a tip-in with 7:40 left in the third period to snap a one-all tie. Havlat, who had assisted on Michal Handzus’ first-period goal, then scored into an empty net with 36 seconds left.

Hamilton redirected Bryan Smolinski’s cross-ice pass just under the outstretched glove of Nashville goalie Chris Mason.

“It wasn’t just a cross-ice pass,” Hamilton said. “It was a saucer pass that beat two defencemen and it was my job to put it in.”

Hamilton, who was in the New York Islanders’ organisation, has two goals and an assist in three games for Chicago. In 14 NHL games coming into this season, he had two goals and six assists.

Havlat signed a three-year, US$18 million deal with the Blackhawks (2-1-0) after being acquired from Ottawa in July. He has four goals and four assists in three games.

But tighter defensive play, not offence, was the key to Chicago’s win.

The Blackhawks and Predators entered the game with the two highest goals-against averages in the NHL. Chicago’s was 5.50 through two games; Nashville’s 7.00 through two.

“We were much better than the first two games,” Havlat said. “We played much better defensively.”

“We were just trying to make things simple and that’s what we did tonight.”

Nikolai Khabibulin, who made 37 saves, lost a bid for his first shutout as a Blackhawk when Jason Arnott tied it one-all at 5:31 of the third period.

“I thought for the most past we played pretty good tonight,” Khabibulin said. “We’ve just got to keep building on that.”

Chicago coach Trent Yawney had ripped his team for undisciplined play following a 5-4 loss to Columbus on Saturday.

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“I think we got the message that was unacceptable,” Khabibulin said.

Although Arnott’s goal got the Predators back into the game, Nashville (0-3-0) remained winless.

Mason made his first start, spelling starting goalie Tomas Vokoun, and made 28 saves.

He said he’s not concerned about Nashville’s slow start.

“I am surprised,” Mason said. “I think everybody is, but I’m not too worried. We’ve been in every game.”

“We have done things that have kind of given the game away and I think that is something we can easily fix. It’s no time to panic.”

Handzus’s goal at 4:57 of the first was the completion of a give-and-go with linemate Radim Vrbata.

After Handzus dropped the puck for Vrbata on right wing, he cut to the edge of the crease. When both Nashville defencemen committed to Vrbata, he dished the puck back to Handzus, who was wide open.

Arnott tied it at 5:31 of the third. Set up by Paul Kariya’s pass from the right boards, Arnott ripped a one-timer from 20 feet out in the slot past Khabibulin.

Khabibulin’s last shutout came with Tampa Bay in 2004, when he posted five shutouts during the playoffs to help lead the Lightning to the Stanley Cup. He signed a four-year, $27 million free agent contract with the Blackhawks in August 2005.

The Blackhawks beat the Predators 8-6 in the team’s season-openers last week.

Notes: In Nashville’s opening losses, Vokoun had allowed 13 goals. … The Predators assigned D Alex Henry to Milwaukee of the AHL. He had been out with a cracked bone in his foot. D Greg Zanon and forwards Scott Nichol and Vernon Fiddler were healthy scratches for the Predators. … Rookie Fs Matt Keith and Adam Burish were Chicago’s healthy scratches.