CHICAGO (AP) — The race for the Central Division is long over, and the West has been won. The Presidents’ Trophy is still out there, and the Chicago Blackhawks look ready to grab that one as well.
If they can pick up a few more timely goals on the power play, this could be only the beginning.
Marian Hossa scored just 52 seconds into overtime and the streaking Blackhawks swept the season series against the Nashville Predators for the first time with a 5-4 victory Friday night.
“It’s huge for the confidence of the power play and that’s good,” Hossa said.
With Rich Clune in the penalty box serving a four-minute minor for high sticking, Patrick Kane sent a pass across the ice to Hossa, who one-timed it past Pekka Rinne for his 17th goal of the season.
Duncan Keith also scored a power-play goal in the first period for Chicago’s first score with the man advantage since March 29 against Anaheim, snapping a string of 20 unsuccessful chances over nine games.
“It made a difference for us tonight,” said captain Jonathan Toews, who had two assists. “We know that in the near future here it’s going to matter a lot, so we need to confident units to go out there and make plays.”
Kane, Michal Handzus, and Brandon Saad also scored for the NHL-best Blackhawks, who have won seven in a row.
Slumping Nashville has dropped eight in a row and 11 of 12 overall. Matt Halischuk had two goals and Kevin Henderson scored in his first NHL game, but the Predators still lost to the Blackhawks for the fourth time this month and the sixth consecutive occasion dating to last season.
“Everybody’s pushing to try to get a win,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s one thing or another. All their goals were turnovers.”
Chicago and Nashville were tied at 2 after the first period, and exchanged goals again in the second. Kane gave the Blackhawks the lead when he got a pass from Bryan Bickell and slid the puck between Rinne’s legs for his team-best 21st of the season at 9:20, but Halischuk then got his second of the game when he followed his own shot on a breakaway, making it 3-3 with 7:29 left in the period.
Handzus intercepted a pass by Victor Bartley midway through the third and beat Rinne into the top of the goal, giving Chicago the lead once again. It was the first goal for the veteran center since he was acquired in a trade with San Jose on April 1.
“He’s here not for his scoring prowess, but to do a lot of other things for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But certainly nice to see him get on the board.”
The Predators then tied it when Bobby Butler rushed in for a rebound score with 3½ minutes remaining, beating Corey Crawford high into the net.
“The effort to compete was there,” Halischuk said. “We did all the good things, but unfortunately didn’t get the two points.”
The dramatic finish came after a crazy first period that featured a pair of goals for each team.
Keith’s third of the season and first in 14 games put Chicago in front. But the Predators responded with a pair of rebound scores. First, Halischuk poked the puck through Crawford’s legs to tie it at 1 at 6:31. Then Butler drove to the net and Henderson slammed it home in a scrum in front of the goal.
“I was fortunate to get the goal there and help the team out, but it was just an amazing experience for me,” Henderson said. “I was just by myself, and knew I got a stick on it. I was just ecstatic.”
Nashville’s lead didn’t last very long, with Saad tying it at 2 with his 10th of the season at 13:36. Saad, a contender for the Calder Trophy awarded to the NHL’s top rookie, has seven goals and 15 assists in his last 24 games.
NOTES: G Ray Emery (lower body), D Michal Rozsival (upper body) and RW Patrick Sharp (upper body) were among the scratches for Chicago. Quenneville said Emery will be out again when the Blackhawks host Phoenix on Saturday night. … The Blackhawks held a pregame ceremony to honor longtime broadcaster Pat Foley for his 30 seasons with the team. Foley was presented with a commemorative painting and platinum microphone. “I feel very blessed,” Foley told the sellout crowd of 22,014. … Cs Mike Fisher and Paul Gaustad, LW Gabriel Bourque and RW Patric Hornqvist were the notable scratches for the Predators. … Henderson was recalled from Milwaukee of the AHL on Friday morning.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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