NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Getting the first victory in three weeks is nice. Beating the Chicago Blackhawks to avoid an 0-2 deficit before hitting the road is much, much sweeter.
Craig Smith scored the first two playoff goals of his career and added an assist, and the Nashville Predators beat the Blackhawks 6-2 on Friday night to tie their Western Conference opening-round playoff series at a game apiece. It also was their first victory since clinching a postseason berth on March 28, and they did it in style with a postseason franchise-high six goals.
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, who was in net for six of the seven games in the skid, called it a big win.
“It feels great. Winning is a lot of fun, and at this point of the season, it’s a high stakes and it’s a big game and we come out like that,” Rinne said. “It’s fun to play at home. Obviously, second game at home and big, big, big tying game for us.”
Rinne made 24 saves for the win and even had an assist. Filip Forsberg had a goal and an assist, and Colin Wilson, Roman Josi and Mike Santorelli each scored a goal. Nashville lost captain Shea Weber to a lower-body injury nearly midway through the second period.
Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane scored for Chicago, which is chasing its third Stanley Cup trophy in six years. Corey Crawford, yanked after one period in Game 1, gave up three goals in 2 minutes, 19 seconds in the third period as Nashville turned a tight game into a rout late with the fastest three-goal spurt in the franchise’s playoff history.
“They stole some home ice here,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “We’ve got to go back into Chicago and get it back.”
Game 3 is Sunday in Chicago, and coach Joel Quennville has to decide whether to stick with Crawford or go with Scott Darling, who made all 42 saves in winning Game 1.
“We’ll see,” Quenneville said. “We’ll talk about it as we go along tonight and tomorrow, and we’ll do what gives our best chance.”
With NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in the stands, he got to see another packed arena in Nashville with Predators fans keeping the Chicago faithful way outnumbered.
The Predators felt like they only needed to make a few tweaks to their game after outshooting and outhitting Chicago in Game 1. They jumped on the Blackhawks from the start, picking up their first man-advantage 61 seconds into the game. Wilson, who scored two goals Wednesday night, roofed a wrister over Crawford’s shoulder for the power-play goal.
Chicago managed only one shot midway through the first, but managed to tie it at 1 when Sharp lifted the puck over a sprawling Rinne at 16:13. But Josi scored on a wrister with 3.6 seconds left in the period for a 2-1 lead.
On the ensuing faceoff, the teams scrapped, with roughing penalties handed out to Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell of Chicago and Paul Gaustad and Taylor Beck of Nashville. Gaustad hadn’t been out of the box long when he drew a double-minor for high-sticking Michal Rozsival, catching the Chicago defenseman with his stick after pushing him away.
Gaustad is one of Nashville’s big penalty killers, and he got help from Rinne getting just enough of Sharp’s slap shot late to deflect it off the crossbar.
Replay showed six Blackhawks on the ice during a line change when Kane managed to get the puck alone and tie it with his wrister from the left circle slipping under Rinne’s glove midway through the period. Laviolette yelled at officials over the missed call and said it was a big moment in the game.
Then, Weber apparently got hurt when he was checked at the boards by Chicago forward Brandon Saad, knocking the 6-foot-4 defenseman to the ice. Weber went to the bench and went straight to the locker room favoring his right leg. The Predators had no update on his status after the game.
The Predators took the lead for good at 14:54 on a wrister by Smith from in front a few minutes later.
Nashville thought it padded its lead in the final minutes of the third when Calle Jarnkrok scored, but officials waved it off immediately for Predators forward Mike Santorelli cross-checking Crawford from behind to the ice.
Forsberg got the scoring started with his first career playoff goal unassisted from the edge of the crease at 12:41 of the third. Smith followed with his second on a breakaway, then Santorelli scored at 15:00, keeping fans on their feet celebrating.
NOTES: The Predators now are 3-7 in Game 2s in their playoff history. … Crawford is 13-11 in first-round games. … Sharp has 39 playoff goals in his career, and Kane scored his 38th. … Forsberg became the youngest in Nashville playoff history to score a goal at 20 years, 247 days.
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