NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Nashville Predators have their first 2-1 lead ever in an opening-round series. It’s only fitting the first player they ever drafted played a key role.
David Legwand was the No. 2 overall pick in 1998 when the franchise was getting started. Best known as a two-way player, he scored the go-ahead goal and had two assists as the Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 on Tuesday night and made some history.
The Predators have never won more than two games in any of their first four playoff appearances.
Game 4 is here Thursday night, but Nashville forward Steve Sullivan said they aren’t worried about stats and history.
“We’re worried about this series right now. We’re worried about the way we are playing. Tonight was a really good game for us. I thought we played right to our game plan from the top of our lineup right to the bottom. Peks was outstanding, Leggy had an unbelievable hockey game, and we just got a lot from everyone,” Sullivan said.
Pekka Rinne stopped 26 shots and has allowed only two even-strength goals. Joel Ward and Shea Weber also scored for Nashville, and Martin Erat scored on a penalty shot late. The Predators more than made up for the absence of top goal scorer Patric Hornqvist, scratched for a second straight game with an injury.
“A lot of people have been saying we are doubtful because Horny is not in the lineup, but this goes to show that we have a lot of guys that can score,” Ward said. “We’re not depending on one guy. Obviously we do miss Horny and his energy, but we have to kind of move forward and look past that a little bit. When he comes back in, we will be excited to have him back.”
Tomas Kopecky scored a power-play goal for Chicago.
The Blackhawks won a franchise-record 23 road games in earning the West’s No. 2 seed but could be in trouble even with all their offensive firepower. They are just 8-18 all-time when losing two of the first three games of a series.
“We handed control of the series right back to them with our effort,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said.
The Predators’ biggest problem early was coming out a bit too excited at the prospect of having home-ice advantage.
Outhit by the Blackhawks in losing 2-0 Sunday night in Chicago, they made up for that every chance they got. Francis Bouillon set the tone by levelling Blackhawks defenceman Colin Fraser right in front of the Chicago bench at 6:10 of the first to get everyone on their feet. They also outshot Chicago 13-7 over the first 20 minutes and finished with a 35-27 margin.
They more than made up for that with seven giveaways to just one by the Blackhawks in that span. They also got very lucky when Rinne tried to clear a puck early only to see John Madden flip it back to the net. Rinne threw himself onto the puck and looked like he might have carried it across the goal line but a quick review kept it scoreless.
Nashville got the man advantage three times in the first period and was outshot on the first and couldn’t score on any of the three. Ward put Nashville up 1-0 with a backhander over Antti Niemi’s leg off a rebound with 13 minutes gone.
But Nashville picked up its first penalty at 17:20 when Francis Bouillon was called for roughing, and Kopecky backhanded the puck past Rinne to tie it up just 15 seconds later.
That was it for Chicago as the Predators shut down Patrick Kane, who had two goals through the first two games, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. They combined for seven shots, though Hossa did assist on Kopecky’s goal.
“We need to get back to the drawing board and be better in Game 4,” Sharp said.
Legwand put Nashville ahead to stay on a play started by defenceman Kevin Klein flipping the pass up the ice to Sullivan, skating up the right boards. Sullivan passed from the right circle to Legwand who tipped the puck past Niemi four minutes into the second.
Weber made it 3-1 with 9:52 gone, firing a slap shot from the blue line through Niemi’s legs.
The crowd, about 1,000 shy of a sellout, responded by turning up the noise and serenading the Predators through one timeout and as they headed into the locker-room for the second intermission. They really cranked it up after Erat was awarded a penalty shot with 14:35 left, and he went top shelf over Niemi’s glove hand.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said they could barely hear on the bench. The Blackhawks noticed the noise as well.
“I really thought we lost all momentum in that second period, and they took the game over,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think the building was alive. It had some personality. We put ourselves in the spot we’re in.”
Notes: Nashville is 0 of 12 on the power play in the series. The Blackhawks aren’t much better. They went 1 of 4 and now are 2 of 11. … The last time Chicago split the first two games in the playoffs and lost Game 3 was last season to Vancouver, and the Blackhawks won three straight to win the series. … Legwand has five points in the series. He had 38 in the regular season.