NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Chicago Blackhawks are moving on thanks to strong penalty killing and a couple of key bounces of the puck.
Jonathan Toews scored a power-play goal to cap a wild first period that featured one goal off Patrick Kane’s toe near mid-ice, and the Blackhawks held on for a 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Monday night. Chicago advanced to the Western Conference semifinals for the second straight year.
“We played like we had to win this game, and the first period had more action than we’ve seen,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
“The start of this game really was not just offence but unpredictability of the game,” he added. “I thought we settled down after that. We had a chance to win. You don’t want to play any extra games, you don’t want to play any extra shifts. … Now we’ve got Vancouver again.”
The Blackhawks won the final three games of the series, setting up a second-round matchup with the Canucks for the second consecutive season. Chicago hasn’t lost a Game 6 with the chance to eliminate an opponent since 1995.
Nashville has been eliminated in all five of its post-season appearances on home ice.
“There is a loss for words right now,” said Nashville captain Jason Arnott, who scored his only two goals of the series Monday. “We work all season, had a great opportunity, and let it slip away. It’s tough to handle.”
The Predators, who blew a lead with 13.6 seconds left in regulation in Game 5 on Saturday, scored three more goals than they had in two previous Game 6 losses. But they couldn’t beat Antti Niemi in the final two periods even when getting three power plays within 4:29 of the third.
Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said the Blackhawks didn’t want to go back home for Game 7.
“There is plays where you have to take penalties … What can you do? You go in the box, and we dealt with it. I thought we did a good job of not panicking,” Keith said.
Chicago led 4-3 going into the third, where Nashville outshot the Blackhawks 15-3. The rookie goalie Niemi stopped Martin Erat in front with 85 seconds left. Nashville pulled goalie Pekka Rinne with 1:15 remaining, but John Madden scored an empty netter with 7.8 seconds left to seal the victory.
Toews also had two assists, feeding Madden on the empty-netter. Keith and Patrick Sharp each had a goal and an assist, and Patrick Kane had a goal. Marian Hossa added three assists in a game Nashville wanted him to miss. The Predators thought Hossa deserved to be suspended for a boarding penalty against defenceman Dan Hamhuis in the Blackhawks’ 5-4 overtime win Saturday in Chicago.
So nearly every time Hossa stepped onto the ice, the sellout crowd booed loudly.
Shea Weber also had a goal for Nashville.
The Predators got top goal scorer Patric Hornqvist back for the first time since he played 13 minutes in the Predators’ 4-1 win to open this series. He provided an immediate boost to Nashville’s anemic power play unit, assisting on Arnott’s goal on the Predators’ second advantage of the game.
Chicago led 4-3 after an emotional first period in which the Blackhawks went ahead 3-1 with help from a flukey goal. Brent Seabrook tried to dump the puck off a faceoff in front of the Nashville bench only to see it bounce off Kane’s right toe and past Rinne into the wide-open net with 9:54 gone. Sharp then scored his third this series at 12:03 for the 3-1 lead.
Rinne said he was expecting the puck to come along the rim before it hit Kane’s foot.
“It was pretty bad timing to have that kind of period in the most important game of the year,” Rinne said.
Nashville answered by ending its power-play drought. Having gone 22 power plays without scoring, Arnott tipped in a puck from the right edge of the crease, catching Niemi leaning the other way at 15:44. It was the Predators’ only goal with the man advantage this series.
The Predators tied it at 3 off a slap shot from Hamhuis at 19:06, a goal that re-energized the crowd. But Jerred Smithson took a hooking penalty, and Toews scored on the rebound of Keith’s shot seven seconds later to put Chicago back ahead at 19:29.
“We did what we needed to do to win the game,” Toews said. “It was a pretty good win. We knew it was going to be the toughest game of the series, no surprise. There it was, and we found a way to win.”
It stayed 4-3 through the second period as Nashville killed 10 minutes of penalties, the last when Hornqvist took a double minor for high-sticking defenceman Brent Sopel in the face as he fell. The penalty-killing wore the Predators out, and Chicago outshot them 15-4 in the period.
NOTES: Chicago has won five straight games and eight of nine in the playoffs with the chance to eliminate a team. … The Blackhawks went 4 for 23 with the man advantage in this series. … The Predators had been shut out 2-0 in 2004 and 3-0 in 2008 in their previous Game 6s?both against Detroit.