CHICAGO | Tuning up for the postseason means turning on the power play’s switch for the Blackhawks.
A team possessed of almost everything in the waning regular season still lacks punch with the extra man on ice. That’s one lagging indicator left over from last season’s under-achievement.
So Hawks coach Joel Quenneville had to be pleased with the first score and last score in Friday night’s 5-4 overtime victory over the Nashville Predators.
Taking advantage of a four-minute, high-sticking penalty, Marian Hossa pushed the game winner past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne with 52 seconds elapsed in the extra period.
"Long run, in the playoffs, we know we have to get the power play going because it's going to be crucial," Hossa said. "After practicing a few days, our units were mixed up, we had a different setup. We're glad we got two power play goals tonight.
"I felt like the puck was moving much better in the last practices. We had a good feeling coming into the game."
Hossa’s score was a bookend to defenseman Duncan Keith’s power-play goal that opened the night’s scoring early in the first period. Keith broke an 0-for-19 Hawks blanking in power-play opportunities with a robust shot past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.
"The power play's been something we've talked about for a while," Keith said. "I think we got back to using our some of our instincts and just creating some plays off whatever they gave us. That's what we're going to need. We've got a lot of skill on both units."
The Hawks’ last power-play goal came against the Anaheim Ducks on March 29. Their power-play percentage had dropped to 15.4 percent, 20th in the NHL.
The Hawks, who swept all five games from the Predators, have 72 points, six ahead of the Eastern Conference’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Their five defeats are also five fewer than any NHL competitor.
Yet the unfinished business remained the power play.
“We’re not happy with it,” Quenneville said before the game. “We’ve been working on it here regularly, each and every day and the personnel and what we’re trying to do on ice. That’s the one sore spot in the second part of our season here.
“The guys, they want to see it resolved, as well. … That can ignite our offense, and we know how those timely goals on the power play are. Especially in the playoffs, we’re going to have to rely on it.”
The power play has been hurt by the extended loss of triggerman Patrick Sharp to a shoulder injury.
Sharp has been practicing, but was ruled out of Friday’s game. With the Hawks already having clinched home-ice advantage for the first three rounds, Quenneville can afford to give extended recuperation time to stars.
In an uncommonly high-scoring game against the slogging Predators, the Hawks had to work longer after Bobby Butler tied it 4-4 with 3:34 left in the third period.
Two other flashy Hawks lit it up in five-on-five situations.
Top Hawks rookie Brandon Saad powered a slapper past Rinne, his 10th goal, to tie it 2-2 late in first. Saad ranks third among NHL rookies in points (25) and second in assists (14).
Patrick Kane tallied his 21st goal charging in on Rinne to give the Hawks a 3-2 lead midway through the second period. Kane is sixth in points in the NHL.
Center Michal Handzus gave the Hawks a brief 4-3 lead in the third before Butler’s tying score.
The Hawks honored popular TV play-by-play announcer Pat Foley, completing his 30th season in the booth. Foley had a two-year interruption in 2006 due to his inexplicable firing by the late owner Bill Wirtz. Foley was re-hired in time for the 2010 Stanley Cup championship.
“Rocky Wirtz didn’t have to do anything more for me,” Foley said in a pre-game ceremony. "He gave me my job back (in 2008). Nobody has to throw any parties for me. I’m the luckiest man in the room.”