When Opryland theme park left town years ago, many Nashvillians thought that their days of roller-coasters were over.
Thursday night’s Predators game against the Blackhawks provided an emotional roller-coaster of sorts for the 15,353 fans in attendance at Sommet Center who saw Martin Erat score a goal at 19 seconds of overtime to give the Predators a 5-4 victory over the visitors from the Windy City.
The Predators scored the game’s first goal on Jason Arnott’s seventh goal of the season.
Then the defensive breakdowns kicked in, allowing the Blackhawks to score three straight goals in the second.
Alexander Radulov brought the Predators to within one with his goal at 4:55 of the third period. Radulov was on the receiving end of a nifty Vern Fiddler pass and one-timed the puck low to the glove side of Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
Fiddler tied the game at 10:07 of the third period.
David Legwand’s wrist shot from above the left faceoff circle glanced off of Fiddler’s left skate and squeezed between Khabibulin’s pads. The Predators, and their fans, endured a seemingly endless video review to determine whether or not Fiddler directed the puck in with a distinct kicking motion, which if true, would have negated the game-tying tally.
Referee Greg Kimmerly finally pointed to center ice signifying that the goal was good.
“We created turnovers in the third, and when you create turnovers, you can transition and make plays,” Fiddler said.
“We are a pretty good third-period team,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “With or without the lead, we have a way of finding a way.”
Radek Bonk put the Predators in front 4-3 just under seven minutes later, when Radulov fed Bonk a picture-perfect pass at the left of the Chicago net. Bonk’s tap-in goal looked to be the culmination of the Predator comeback.
The resilient Blackhawks thought differently.
Predator defenseman Dan Hamhuis was sent to the penalty box with just 56 seconds remaining in the third period, giving the Blackhawks a power play. Chicago coach Denis Savard pulled Khabibulin to give his team a six to four skater advantage. Thirteen seconds later, his move paid off a Jason Williams hammered the puck by Nashville goaltender Chris Mason to tie the game at 4-4.
Enter overtime and Czechs Erat and Bonk.
Bonk carried the puck on the right side and threw the puck to the low slot, where Erat was skating with Brent Seabrook on his back. Erat got his stick on the puck, Khabibulin made the save, but the puck deflected off of Seabrook and into the net.
“When I went on the ice with Radek, we said we were going to go for it, and we did,” Erat said. “I drove to the net, and Bonky made a great play to throw it there.”
The Predators are now 6-0-1 in the month of November.