Ryan Ellis hit the target twice … but only after he hit something else first.
Officially, the rookie defenseman notched a goal and an assist in the Nashville Predators’ 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Each was the result of basically the same play — a shot from distance that went off someone else’s stick and into the net.
The Predators had much better scoring opportunities throughout the contest, played before 16,592 at Bridgestone Arena, but those ended up as goals on a night when the Blackhawks had a 32-19 edge in actual shots on goal.
“We had some good [chances], a couple backdoors that we didn’t capitalize on, but the name of the game is just to throw the puck on the net because you never know what happens,” Ellis said. “Those two last goals are a clear example of why you want to do that.”
Nick Spaling redirected the first and gave the Predators a 2-1 lead at 17:21 of the second period. The other became the game-winning goal when it went in off the stick of Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith and broke a 2-2 tie with 5:42 left in the contest.
With the victory, the Predators snapped a three-game losing streak and extended Chicago’s current skid to nine straight defeats, three of them in that stretch to Nashville. It also gave them a seven-point cushion over both Chicago and Los Angeles, the teams immediately behind them in the Western Conference standings.
“It’s a big deal,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “It’s a division game and those points make a big difference. I think that’s the reason for our separation in the standings. Those games have been really crucial for us.”
Nashville never trailed but never really got comfortable either.
It was just 46 seconds after Ryan Suter put the Predators on top 1-0 late in the first period that the Blackhawks got even. Some of their best opportunities along the way went unrealized, including a couple backdoor passes to Mike Fisher, who failed to convert, a complete whiff by Jordin Tootoo on a potential scoring chance and a near-miss by Brandon Yip as he drove the net and took a pass from Jerred Smithson.
Any one of those could have — and maybe should have — been goals but were not.
“[Fisher] had a couple great chances,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They sent a couple of rocket passes over to him and he just couldn’t corral it.
“… At the same time, we shot the puck. … If you shoot the puck, good things will happen.”
Even with that approach, the final shot total was Nashville’s lowest since the opening month of the season.
The Predators were held to fewer than 20 four times in October (they won two of those games) but reached at least 20 in every game since. They averaged 25.7 in their previous three meetings against the Blackhawks.
In addition to their shot total, which included just three in the third period, they had another 12 blocked and 14 others that missed the net.
“When things aren’t going well, you want to simplify and get pucks to the net,” Suter said. “That’s what we did. It paid off for us.”
Particularly for Ellis, who got two on net and missed with only one. He ended up as the only player for either team who finished with more than one point.
• Right wing Patric Hornqvist, who shares the Nashville lead in goals with Mike Fisher (17 apiece), sat out with what was classified as an upper body injury. Trotz said Hornqvist was injured in Saturday’s loss at Boston and was considered day-to-day.
Hornqvist appeared in all but one of this season’s games prior to Tuesday.
• David Legwand became the first player in franchise history with 300 career assists when he got the only assist on Ellis’ game-winner.