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Chicago clinches playoff spot in win over Preds…

The bad news? The Preds lost to the Blackhawks. The good news? They’re still in fourth place.

In front of yet another sold out crowd inside Bridgestone Arena, the Predators mounted a tremendous four-goal comeback but allowed a late fifth goal in an emotional 5-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

With the victory, Chicago tied the Detroit Red Wings with 97 points but remain in sixth place due to Detroit having played one less game. They also punched a ticket to their fourth consecutive postseason.

Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, who had played Friday night in Detroit, got the start once again on Saturday. He collected 32 saves but fell to 42-18-8 on the year. The 2011 Vezina Trophy finalist has started all 71 games he’s played in this season so, with the playoff less than a week and a half away, it’ll be interesting to see how much work back-up Anders Lindback sees in the final three games.

The visitors scored early, taking advantage of an exhausted penalty kill unit. With Matt Halischuk in the box for high-sticking, the Blackhawks forced 1:47 worth of action in the Predators zone, ending with a Patrick Sharp goal that deflected in off of Hal Gill.

“We had the puck three times and couldn’t clear it,” Nashville Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “The third time they kept it in, (they) got it to the front of the net and I think it went off one of our defensemen. We were in the box more than we needed to be.”

Thanks to a horrendous hooking penalty that David Legwand took 160 feet away from his own net at the end of the first, the Blackhawks capitalized once again on the man advantage. Marian Hossa, on the goal line, delivered a flawless saucer pass to Dave Bolland in the far face-off circle. The Mimico, Ontario native one-timed it past Rinne for his 19th goal of the season.

Chicago kept pouring it on. A breakaway goal by Patrick Kane and a flukey bounce by Viktor Stalberg made it 3-0 and 4-0, respectively, all just 8:35 into the middle frame. All four goals, in some shape or form, came from Nashville miscues.

“We can’t make mistakes in our own zone,” Alexander Radulov said. “We have to play harder and cannot give up odd-man rushes and breakaways.”

In a curious move after allowing the fourth goal, Trotz did not pull Rinne in favor of Lindback and Nashville responded.

Martin Erat used a Predators power play to put his team on the board. Less than a minute later, captain Shea Weber blasted a shot from the point that cut the Chicago lead to two.

“I think when it was 4-2 we thought we still had a chance to win the game,” Weber said. “We were getting a lot of chances and we felt like we could go for it.”

Just minutes into the final frame, Radulov put on a show. Corralling the puck with speed at the blueline, Radulov gained the Chicago zone and, as Sean O’Donnell and Brent Seabrook collapsed towards him, pumped his right leg as if taking a shot. Both defensemen bit on the move and Radulov danced right through them and then went backhand roof on a mesmerized Corey Crawford to pull the Preds within one.

A few minutes later, Weber tied the game with a perfect shot from the point that found its way into the top corner of the Blackhawk net. With Andrei Kostitsyn providing the screen in front, the puck whizzed by Crawford’s right ear to make the game 4-4.

“When we tied it up, we thought we could win it,” Weber said.

Trotz agreed.

“I felt, when we got it to 4-4, we were at least getting a point here,” he admitted.

Just 1:09 later, however, the Blackhawks took the lead once again, this time for good. Legwand in the defensive zone, allowing Seabrook to get free. Andrew Shaw, working behind the net, found the Chicago defenseman with a backhand pass and Seabrook capitalized on Legwand’s mistake, wristing it past a diving Rinne for the eventual game-winning goal.

The final three opponents of the campaign for Nashville are — at least as of today — non-playoff clubs. Thanks to the loss to Chicago on Saturday, if the Preds want any chance of home ice advantage, they’ll have to have some success against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, the Dallas Stars on Thursday and the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Saturday.

“There was an opportunity,” Trotz said. “They forced us to win all three of our games now. It’s still in our control in terms of the 4-5 seed but what’s not in our control now is home ice advantage.”

The mission to win all three remaining games will start at 7:00pm Central vs. Minnesota on Tuesday.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover //

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