CHICAGO – The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks are finding little margin for error early on in their title defence.
Nashville’s Joel Ward scored a power-play goal with 26.7 seconds remaining in the third period to snap a tie and lift the Predators to a 3-2 win over the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
With Nick Boynton serving a delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass, Ward took a perfect goal mouth cross-ice feed from J.P. Dumont and ripped a shot past rookie goalie Corey Crawford from the left side of the net.
Chicago dropped to 1-2-1, with each game decided by one goal.
“It was a pretty disappointing loss, not coming out of it with at least one (point),” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We should have had something in every game we’ve played this year, but tonight was the toughest one.”
After a slow start, the Predators (2-0) came on strong in the third period.
“We struggled in the first two periods,” Ward said. “We had to get focused, regroup and get as many chances as we can.”
Ward capped the effort just as the game appeared to be headed for overtime.
“It was a broken play,” he said. “There was a pass that came to J.P. down low. I just knew I had to get to open ice.”
Steve Sullivan and Colin Wilson also scored for the Predators. Wilson’s goal early in the third tied it at two.
Nashville’s Anders Lindback made his first NHL start and stopped 23 shots.
“I felt comfortable when I came out and felt more comfortable as the game went on,” said Lindback, a 22-year-old Swede who is playing in his first season in North America. “The boys did a real good job in front of me.”
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews scored a goal and assisted on Patrick Kane’s power-play tally.
Lindback made his NHL debut in the third period of the Predators’ season-opening, 4-1 win over Anaheim last Saturday after No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne sustained a lower-body injury.
Rinne didn’t dress on Wednesday and is listed as day-to-day.
Crawford made his second straight start and stopped 24 shots. He started his first game on Monday in Buffalo and backstopped the Blackhawks to a 4-3 win.
“He made some key saves and he anticipated well on a couple of plays around the net,” Quenneville said. “He looked big and gave us a chance.”
Marty Turco, penciled in as Chicago’s top goalie this season, lost two one-goal decisions in the Blackhawks’ first two games.
“Every game is going to be tight and every game is going to be challenging,” Quenneville said. “We’ve got to be better in certain areas. I think in the three games in a row we could have prevented a goal in each of the games.”
The Blackhawks faced the Predators for the first time since defeating Nashville in six games in the opening round of last season’s playoffs.
Kane opened the scoring with a power-play goal 4:48 in, beating Lindback high on the glove side with a quick shot from the right circle.
Sullivan tied it at one just under two minutes later when he fired a loose puck from the slot between Crawford’s pads.
Toews put Chicago back in front with 3:02 left in the first period, completing a crisp passing play with Tomas Kopecky and Marian Hossa. Kopecky found Toews wide open in the left circle, and Toews’ shot rolled in over Lindback’s right pad.
Both goalies were sharp in the scoreless second period. Among Crawford’s best stops was a point-blank pad save on Cal O’Reilly during a Nashville power play.
Wilson tied it a two at 4:44 of the third on a shot from the slot that appeared to deflect off Chicago defenceman Jordan Hendry.
Nashville’s David Legwand hit the left post with a shot from the slot with 3:55 remaining in the game.
Notes: Chicago D Niklas Hjalmarsson sat out the first game of a two-game suspension for a hit on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville on Monday. His spot was filled by Jordan Hendry. Nashville RW Martin Erat didn’t play because of back spasms. With Rinne out, the Predators dressed Mark Dekanich as the backup goalie.