NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Chicago’s best scorers finally got going, and now the Blackhawks are heading back home with the advantage once again.
Patrick Sharp scored his first two goals of the post-season, and the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 3-0 and tied their opening series at 2-2 Thursday night.
“It was a must-win for us to stay alive in this series, and we took it very seriously,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “But regardless of the situation, we were coming into this game, we knew there were a lot of things we wanted to improve on, and that’s the No. 1 focus.”
Rookie Antti Niemi stopped 33 shots for his second shutout, and Toews had his first playoff goal and also added an assist. Marian Hossa had an assist, just his second in the series.
The Blackhawks made a couple lineup changes, including playing defenceman Brian Campbell for the first time since he broke his collarbone and a rib March 14. Campbell said he was a little foggy early and called it a huge challenge. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was happy to have him back.
“We liked the speed he provides and exiting of the zone, his puck possession game. First game in a long time for him, he did a remarkable job,” Quenneville said.
Nashville lost its first Game 4 in three tries at home. The Predators gave no offensive support to goalie Pekka Rinne, who had allowed only two even-strength goals the first three games.
“We had a few mistakes that we usually don’t make, so we have to make sure that we all regroup and get ready to go,” Nashville forward J.P. Dumont said.
Game 5 is Saturday in Chicago.
“We’re excited to go back home and have home ice, and it’ll be a fun place to play and be and a welcome fresh start,” Quenneville said of his second-seeded Blackhawks.
It was a party-like atmosphere with a band outside the arena before the game and a sellout crowd inside trying to will the Predators to a victory that would have given the franchise its first-ever 3-1 series lead. Nashville outhit (28-18) and outshot (33-30) the Blackhawks but couldn’t get anything past Niemi.
The Predators have yet to score with the man advantage in this series, and a team that ranked 24th in the NHL in the regular season on the power play sorely missed top goal-scorer Patric Hornqvist, who missed his third straight game. They couldn’t even convert with a 5-on-3 in the first after Chicago led 1-0 and now are 0-for-17 on the power play.
Quenneville called that penalty kill a turning point in the game, and the Predators agreed.
“We shot a lot of pucks there,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “We didn’t get them through or we missed the net or put it over the net and just didn’t convert.”
Chicago spent the off day trying to crank up the NHL’s third-highest scoring offence. It worked.
The Blackhawks went up 1-0 as Sharp scored his first goal of the post-season, flipping the puck over a sprawling Rinne at 10:57 of the first period. But it was with the man advantage just 10 seconds after Nashville defenceman Francis Bouillon was called for interference.
“We never let off of the gas pedal,” Toews said. “We were never satisfied, and we never played like it. We see immediate results when we do that.”
Nashville got the 5-on-3 when Tomas Kopecky boarded Nashville defenceman Kevin Klein, leaving him laying on the ice for a couple of minutes at 15:05 and then Dave Bolland flipped the puck out of the rink trying to clear it. Not that it mattered. Predators centre David Legwand was called for goaltender interference, leaving only 32 seconds on the power play for a 4-on-3.
Then the tempers started flaring.
Rinne went sprawling to defend the post against a puck sliding just to the outside, and Blackhawks right-wing Troy Brouwer was in front trying to score off a rebound when Nashville defenceman Ryan Suter started defending his goalie, starting lots of pushing and shoving.
Nashville had a chance to tie it up at 10:54 of the second when Steve Sullivan got the puck on a breakaway only to see Niemi stick out his right leg for the stop.
“He played pretty well,” Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said. “We’re going to need him to keep on being the same way.”
Chicago made it 2-0 with only its third even-strength goal this series as Hossa passed toward the front of the net from the right circle, and Toews tipped it in at 12:55 for his first goal of the post-season. Sharp made it 3-0 with 16:17 gone as he flipped the puck at the net from the inside edge of the right circle.
NOTES: The Blackhawks changed up the lineup, sitting Ben Eager and Colin Fraser and playing right wing Adam Burish and rookie forward Bryan Bickell for the first time this series. … Hornqvist took part in the morning skate but was scratched. … Nashville now is 2-3 in Game 4. … Campbell wound up playing 14 minutes four seconds with one hit and one blocked shot.