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Blackhawks push toward playoffs with OT win

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Potential playoff opponents for the Chicago Blackhawks be forewarned.

With five games left in the lockout-shortened regular season, the league-leading Blackhawks aren't just peaking at the right time, they're playing playoff-style hockey before the playoffs actually begin.

Marian Hossa's power-play slap shot 52 seconds into overtime to be the winner as the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 5-4 on Friday night at the United Center.

"It's a different animal come playoff time, but we feel when the games are on the line, particularly third periods, late in games, in overtime, that doing the right things are going to make us successful," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "You're comfortable being out there and you want to be out there. We had a little stretch there that got our attention. Nice to see us be more effective and get the job done when it counts."

Hossa received a perfect pass through the crease from Patrick Kane, who got the assist along with Duncan Keith, and pushed a 25-foot shot past losing Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne (14-16-8).

With Nashville's Rich Clune sent to the penalty box for a four-minute double minor for high sticking with 45 seconds left in regulation, it looked like Chicago might wrap things up before the final buzzer.

That was easier said than done, though, as Nashville's defense rose to the task, forcing the game into overtime.

But what the Blackhawks weren't able to do in the closing minutes of the third period, they did so fairly quickly in the extra period with Hossa's 17th goal of the season.

Needless to say, Nashville coach Barry Trotz was none too happy at Clune's penalty, saying it cost the Predators the game.

"We were in a position to take it to overtime and hopefully get a win there," Trotz said. "We put ourselves in jeopardy at the end of the game there to get no points, obviously, with the four-minute penalty. To me, it's unacceptable. That's a difference-maker.

"Guys battled back tonight. Trailing and always kept battling back, battling back and we found a way to put ourselves in a position to win and then we take a penalty that's unnecessary. A sloppy stick, the four-minute power play and away we went."

It was Chicago's seventh straight win and 10th in its last 12 games, improving the Blackhawks' overall record to a NHL-best 34-5-4 mark. While they played much better than their record indicates, the Predators -- who will miss the playoffs -- still dropped to 15-22-8 on the season.

"We know we're a better team than we were earlier in the season, but at the same time we're up against better opponents too," Chicago forward Jonathan Toews said. "The talk has been that we want to keep improving every single game and turn ourselves into that playoff-type team that we want to come postseason, and we're doing that.

"Tonight maybe our pace, our speed, wasn't quite there at times, but we still made some smart plays and found a way to come out with the two points. We'll be happy with that and we have another one tomorrow (Saturday) night, so hopefully we'll be better."

The win marked the first time in team history that the Blackhawks have swept a season series against the Predators, finishing 5-0-0 vs. Nashville.

Also, Chicago outshot Nashville 30-27 to extend its all-time record over the Predators to 44-40-4.

Michael Handzus' unassisted goal at 10:07 in the third period broke a 3-3 tie, and it looked like the Blackhawks would cruise from there as the Predators appeared to tire as the game went on.

However, a defensive mixup at 16:26 allowed Nashville's Bobby Butler to score on a slap shot, tying the score 4-4, marking the seventh time this season that Chicago has allowed an opposing team four goals or more in a game.

In what wasn't necessarily expected to be such a high scoring game, Chicago grabbed a 3-2 lead midway through the second period when Kane tallied his 21st goal of the season at 9:20. That tied Kane with Jonathan Toews for the team lead in goals.

Nashville gave Chicago all it could handle, though.

That included the second goal of the game (and fourth of the season) by Matt Halischuk at 12:31 of the second period, tying the score for the third time at 3-3.

Scoring was plentiful for both teams in the first period, with each team getting two goals.

Chicago scored first when Keith netted his third goal of the season at 4:48 of the first period.

But that early 1-0 margin didn't last very long as less than two minutes later, Halischuk tied things up quite handily, pushing the puck past winning Chicago goalie Corey Crawford (18-4-4).

Then, just over four minutes later at 10:42, Kevin Henderson knocked home his first goal of the season after a scrum to the right of Crawford. It appeared Crawford lost sight of the puck momentarily and Henderson capitalized, putting the Predators ahead 2-1.

Chicago tied the score at 13:36 on Brandan Saad's 10th goal of the season.

What made the first period even more interesting is that Chicago outshot Nashville 15-8, yet the Predators wound up with more quality goals based upon the number of shots taken by both teams.

NOTES: The Blackhawks honored longtime team broadcaster Pat Foley before the game. Foley, a native of Chicago's suburbs, has called Hawks games on radio or TV (or both) for the last 33 seasons. ... Attendance was announced at 22,014. ... The Blackhawks were well-rested, not having played since a 5-2 win over Dallas on Monday. ... Chicago hosts Phoenix on Saturday before playing three of its last four regular-season games on the road at Vancouver (April 22), Edmonton (April 24) and St. Louis (April 27). The Hawks' last regular-season home game is April 26 against Calgary. ... Nashville plays its final regular-season home game on April 23, and its last two games on the road at Detroit (April 25) and Columbus (April 27).
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