Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators continue to stymie Chicago Blackhawks

By Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 29, 2017 at 11:06 AM
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As he watched his teammates frantically try to solve Pekka Rinne for the tying goal in the last 10-plus minutes Tuesday night, Chicago Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg got a glimpse of why Rinne has become their nemesis.

"He's been around for a long time, and you could see why," Forsberg said.

Rinne is showing no signs of slowing down in his age 35 season, coming up with 37 saves as the Nashville Predators turned away Chicago 3-2 at sold-out Bridgestone Arena.

In upping his record to 14-3-2, Rinne made at least four 10-bell stops. He stoned Patrick Kane on consecutive Grade A chances early in the first period, denied Jonathan Toews in the blue paint about five minutes into the second period and stopped Nick Schmaltz on a short-handed breakaway with about seven minutes remaining.

There was also considerable help from left winger Austin Watson in the last minute as the Blackhawks skated with six attackers. Watson dropped to the ice to block three consecutive shots, sealing Nashville's ninth win in 11 home matches.

"There's an art to what he does, and it was on full display at the end," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said of Watson. "The puck always seems to find him."

It also found him offensively. Watson deflected Matt Irwin's slapper past Forsberg at 3:48 of the second period to snap a 1-1 tie. It was the third goal for Watson and his second since returning from a two-game suspension last week.

The goal survived a lengthy replay review requested by Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who believed Watson interfered with Forsberg. But the contact occurred after the puck passed by Forsberg, rendering it inconsequential.

"I looked at it and it was close," Quenneville said. "It could have gone either way."

There was no doubt about the eventual game-winner. With Kane in the box for crosschecking Kevin Fiala, Roman Josi blistered a slapper from the left circle past Forsberg's glove at 2:32 of the third period for his sixth goal.

It was Nashville's 18th man-advantage marker in 11 games. It has scored at least one power-play goal in all 11 home games and its home power-play percentage of 40 percent is easily the best in the NHL.

"We have a lot of confidence in our team and a lot of depth," Josi said. "We have four good lines, three good (defense) pairings and great goaltending. It's been a great month for us for sure."

The Predators' 10th win in 13 November games came with more than a little suspense, though. Lance Bouma's snapper from the bottom of the right circle at 9:38 pulled the Blackhawks within a goal. Chicago got a late man-advantage opportunity at 15:37 when Josi was called for tripping Alex DeBrincat.

But Nashville (15-6-3) killed the penalty, even after Quenneville lifted Forsberg for a sixth skater near the end. And it defended well enough in the end to beat the Blackhawks in their first visit to town since a four-game sweep in last season's Western Conference playoffs that helped propel the Predators to their first Stanley Cup Finals.

"That's as loud as I've heard the building since the playoffs," Nashville center Ryan Johansen said.

Filip Forsberg pushed the decibel level to its peak right away, notching his 12th goal at 3:16 of the first period as he collected a rebound and poked it inside the right post. Tommy Wingels responded for Chicago at 5:12, wristing a silky pass from DeBrincat for his second goal.

Despite playing their second game in less than 24 hours, the Blackhawks (12-9-3) owned a 39-31 advantage in shots on goal and a 74-62 margin in total shots. But Rinne, who ceded only five goals in last spring's sweep, stood tall in the net again.

"He made big saves all game," Laviolette said. "When we needed him to bail us out, he did. He was awesome."

NOTES: Chicago RW Patrick Kane was fined $5,000 by the NHL on Tuesday for a slash against Anaheim's Nick Ritchie on Monday night in the third period of the Blackhawks' 7-3 victory. The fine is the maximum allowed under the NHL's CBA. ... Nashville D Yannick Weber and LW Scott Hartnell (lower-body injuries) skated with the team Tuesday morning but missed their eighth straight game apiece. ... Chicago scratched D Michal Kempny, C Tanner Kero and D Jordan Oesterle. ... The Predators' scratches were LW Cody McLeod and C Frederick Gaudreau.

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