NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — James Neal scored a natural hat trick, and the Nashville Predators edged the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Thursday night to become the last NHL team still unbeaten in regulation this season.
The two Central Division rivals came in as the only teams yet to lose in regulation. They played into overtime six nights earlier in Chicago with the Blackhawks winning 2-1.
The Predators earned points in their seventh straight game before a sellout crowd, continuing their best start since the 2010-11 season when they got points in each of their first eight.
For Neal, it was the fifth hat trick of his career. Acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh in June, Neal has five goals in four games. Filip Forsberg had two assists.
Ben Smith and Andrew Shaw scored for Chicago.
With Chicago trailing 3-1, Shaw tipped a rebound past goalie Pekka Rinne at 12:36 of the third. That gave Chicago fans making the trip down for the game a reason to get loud again.
The Blackhawks pulled goalie Antti Raanta for the extra attacker. Rinne gloved the puck out of the air with 1:18 left with Shaw trying to score. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville took his timeout, but the Blackhawks couldn’t beat Rinne despite outshooting Nashville 32-27.
The Blackhawks left goalie Corey Crawford at home for this two-game road swing because of an upper body injury, and Raanta got his second straight start.
The Predators outshot Chicago early with a flurry of action in front of Raanta. But Smith flipped a wrister over Rinne’s outstretched leg off a rebound at 12:21 for a 1-0 lead for the Blackhawks.
Nashville failed to take advantage of a power play when Marcus Kruger went to the box for high-sticking Colin Wilson, but defenseman Seth Jones found Neal with a nice cross-ice pass. Neal beat Raanta stick-side, tying it 1-1 in the final minute of the period.
Chicago got its first man advantage at 13:07 of the second, and the Blackhawks took turns shooting at Rinne. He stopped drives from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and a slap shot from Patrick Sharp in killing the penalty.
The Predators broke the tie at 16:12 of the second when the puck squirted over to Neal just inside the left circle near the slot, and his slap shot beat Raanta’s glove. Neal completed his hat trick at 1:52 of the third from the side on a wrister.
NOTES: Neal’s previous hat trick was Dec. 29, 2013, against Carolina while he was with the Penguins. It was Nashville’s first hat trick at home since Sergei Kostitsyn had one on Jan. 1, 2012. … Predators forward Mike Ribeiro had an assist on Neal’s goal, giving him points in five straight. … Neal’s third goal was the first allowed by the Blackhawks in the third period this season. … Forsberg has a team-high six assists.
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