The Nashville Predators not only swept the Chicago Blackhawks in their two-game series last night, but pulled ahead of them in the standings for the last playoff spot in the Central Division.
Viktor Arvidsson opened the scoring early for Nashville, capitalizing on a turnover behind the net by Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban. As Subban tried to ring the puck along the boards to Kane, Arvidsson sealed the back wall, eventually deflecting a pass off Calvin de Haan’s skate for the 1-0 lead.
Calle Jarnkrok would make it 2-0 late in the first period after an extended shift in the Hawks’ zone. With great speed from the blue line, defenseman Mattias Ekholm shielded the puck from rookies Kirby Dach and Nicolas Beaudin, skating around the back of Chicago’s net. With Beaudin in pursuit, Ekholm made a blind wraparound shot towards the net, which deflected off the skate of Jarnkrok for Nashville’s second fluky goal of the game.
The Predators dominated play over the first two periods, winning almost every board battle and stymying the Hawks defensively. Nashville forced the Hawks to play a dump-and-chase style, effectively limiting them to the perimeter. The Blackhawks had no answer, unable to produce a decent forecheck or match Nashville’s desperation.
Chicago would eventually break through near the midway point of the third, compliments of Alex Debrincat. Debrincat scored two goals in a 1:50 second span to tie the game, including a beautiful power-move goal around Predator defenseman Dante Fabbro. The second tally was Debrincat’s 18th goal of the year, which ties his season total last year.
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The tie would be short lived however, with Nashville capitalizing on a defensive-zone turnover by Kirby Dach less than four minutes later. Dach’s pass was intercepted by Ryan Johansen, who began a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play with Viktor Arvidsson and Eeli Tolvanen. Tolvanen then made a nice touch-pass to defenseman Roman Josi, who snapped the puck past Subban’s pad for the 3-2 lead.
Although the recent return of rookie Kirby Dach should have provided a momentum boost, the Hawks were outplayed for the majority of both contests with Nashville. If it wasn’t for Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban, the Hawks would have never been in a position to tie the game midway through the third period. Other than the first Nashville goal, Subban was solid the entire game, making many high quality stops. Subban finished the game with 28 saves on 31 shots and a .903 save percentage.
Blackhawk center Dylan Strome had missed the game due to the birth of his daughter, forcing Coach Jeremy Colliton to experiment with his lines. Defenseman Ian Mitchell was a scratch in favor of Nicolas Beaudin, with forward Matthew Highmore drawing back into the lineup. Beaudin averaged 16:47 of ice-time and was -1.
Although currently tied with Nashville in points (37), the Predators have more regulation/overtime wins (18) than the Blackhawks (16). With 36 games played, Chicago now sits fifth in the division, with the Columbus Blue Jackets just three points back in the sixth spot. After a disappointing March, including an ugly six-game road trip which yielded a 1-5-0 record, the Blackhawks will have to claw their way back into the playoff picture with only 20 games remaining in their regular season.
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