Rinne’s play in net helps Predators top Blackhawks
CHICAGO — Nashville Predators right winger Craig Smith never envisioned scoring 100 goals in the NHL back when he was a collegiate player for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Come to think of it, Smith could not even wrap his mind around scoring one goal at the highest level.
“I was just happy to be at Wisconsin,” Smith said with a smile. “That was a good time.”
Fast forward eight years, and the good times keep rolling for Smith. He scored his 100th career goal in the second period to break a tie and lift the Predators to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night.
Calle Jarnkrok also scored as the Predators avenged an overtime loss to the Blackhawks two weeks earlier. Nashville (5-3-2) snapped a two-game winless skid and earned its second victory on the road.
Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne set a season high with 43 saves to stave off the Blackhawks.
“It feels great,” Rinne said. “Big division game, big two points. We were able to hang in there, and from the second period on, I thought we played pretty well.
“We weren’t physical in the first, and from then on, I thought we started playing the body a little bit more. That always gets everybody going.”
Meanwhile, Chicago (5-4-2) is struggling to get its offense going. After a high-flying start that included scoring 10 goals in the season opener, the Blackhawks have scored 14 goals in their past seven games.
In the past five contests, Chicago is 1-3-1.
“We worked, but at the end of the day, it was a tough loss,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought the quality (of scoring chances) was OK, but I still think more traffic, the right way, would have made it more challenging on them. We’ll keep trying to find ways.”
Chicago opened the scoring on a short-handed goal by Artem Anisimov during the final minute of the first period. Rinne denied Nick Schmaltz on a breakaway but could not corral the puck, which Anisimov lifted into the net for his second goal of the season and his first since Oct. 10.
The sequence marked Chicago’s second short-handed goal of the season.
“Nick Schmaltz made a great individual effort,” said Quenneville, who likes what he has seen from his team’s penalty killers on both ends of the ice. “‘Arty’ followed up the play and got rewarded.”
Nashville evened the score at 1 after a costly giveaway by Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith in the opening minute of the second period. Keith mistakenly swept the puck toward Jarnkrok, who fired a rising shot past Crawford for his first goal of the season.
Smith put the Predators on top 2-1 with a power-play goal with 8:58 remaining in the second period. Center Colton Sissons parked in front of the crease to screen Crawford on the shot.
“It was a great screen,” Smith said. “He really took the eyes away.”
Teammates praised Smith, 28, for his milestone goal. He has played his full career for Nashville.
“That’s great,” Rinne said. “I’m happy for him. He’s been here for a long time and been my teammate for a long time. We need all the scoring we can get, and ‘Smitty’ is for sure one of those guys who has the speed and the shot and the presence on the ice.”
Predators coach Peter Laviolette said his players overcame a sloppy first period by working hard.
“You’ve got to give the players credit,” Laviolette said. “Because they went out in the second and third period and won a hockey game.”
Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane was held scoreless, which snapped his six-game point streak. Kane was whistled for goaltender interference in the third period after slamming into Rinne in the crease.
Nashville withstood pressure in the final 90 seconds as Chicago pulled Crawford for an extra skater. The Blackhawks matched a season high with 44 shots.
“It’s a tough loss, but we played well,” Crawford said. “We can definitely build on a lot of things tonight.”
NOTES: Rookie Blackhawks RW Alex DeBrincat started on the team’s top line for the first time this season alongside C Jonathan Toews and LW Brandon Saad. ... Predators D Samuel Girard returned to the ice after sitting out the previous four games in a row. ... Blackhawks D Cody Franson, C Tanner Kero and D Jordan Oesterle were healthy scratches. ... Predators D Anthony Bitetto, D Matt Irwin and LW Cody McLeod were healthy scratches. ... Blackhawks LW Brandon Saad celebrated his 25th birthday. ... Chicago Bulls rookie F Lauri Markkanen attended the game and watched fellow Finnish countryman Pekka Rinne in net for Nashville.