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Blackhawks snap skid with third-period rally against Predators

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Corey Crawford pleaded innocence, his teammates pleaded ignorance, and Predators fans spewed pure malevolence. But however you look at the tripping penalty called on Nashville’s Craig Smith midway through the third period Thursday night, it was the clear turning point in the Blackhawks’ come-from-behind 3-2 victory at Bridgestone Arena.

Trailing 2-1 in the third period after Mike Fisher’s power-play goal, Crawford drew a penalty — and the Bridgestone Arena fans’ ire — when he appeared to craftily stick out his left leg as Smith came across the crease, drawing contact and a tripping penalty. On the ensuing power play, Jonathan Toews deflected a Brent Seabrook shot past Pekka Rinne to tie the game 2-2. Less than four minutes after that, Patrick Kane registered the 700th point of his career with the game-winning goal, and the Hawks stopped their losing streak at three games.

“I was moving forward, I was pretty close to the goal line, too,” Crawford said. “I just got hit the one before, too. Just trying to brace myself and it didn’t really work too well.”

Toews and Kane both said they hadn’t seen the play, but certainly noticed the fans’ reaction to the replay. Joel Quenneville, obviously, had no problem at all with the play or the call.

Jonathan Toews (left), Artemi Panarin and Duncan Keith celebrate Artem Anisimov's power-play goal in the first period Thursday night. (AP Photo)

“It was his turf,” Quenneville said. “And he’s doing what he has to do.”

The win allowed the Hawks to stay in first place in the Central Division, a point ahead of the streaking Minnesota Wild, who won their 12th straight game Thursday night. It also prevented their losing streak from getting out hand. A loss would have been their third straight against a bottom-tier Central Division team.

“It’s nice for us to get that one and kind of nip things in the bud, as far as our little skid right now,” said Toews, who now has two goals in three games after scoring four in his first 26. “Power play was good, penalty kill was good, and we had the goaltending.”

The teams traded goals 35 seconds apart in the first, with Artem Anisimov scoring on a power play and Filip Forsberg answering at the other end.

With Brian Campbell scratched and goals hard to come by lately, Quenneville offered a new power-play look. Rather than have Seabrook and Duncan Keith at the points in a traditional setup, the top unit went with a 1-3-1 formation, with Keith up high, Artemi Panarin, Toews and Kane across, and Artem Anisimov posting up in front of Rinne. The move paid instant dividends, as Anisimov deflected a Keith shot past Rinne for a 1-0 Hawks lead at 13:19 of the first.

In a penalty-filled game, the Hawks went 2-for-5 on the power play.

“I like the production we got off it,” Quenneville said. “We haven’t had the look of it a lot yet, but there’s enough power up front to generate some offense, and today, the finished product was what we were looking for, and we got it.”

The lead was short-lived, however, as the Predators got it back 35 seconds later. After Ryan Johansen saved a Dennis Rasmussen clearing attempt, he passed over to Filip Forsberg who fired the puck past Crawford for the equalizer.

The second period saw both teams camp out in the offensive zone for extended periods of time, but neither team could cash in. Nashville had five quick shots on goal early, and then had nearly two full minutes in the Hawks zone without putting a puck on net. Later in the period, Patrick Kane had consecutive shifts that lasted nearly two minutes each, but the best scoring opportunity was a whiffed Michal Rozsival one-timer in the slot.

Mike Fisher snuck behind Keith and knocked in a nice cross-ice pass from Mathias Ekholm for a power-play goal and a 2-1 Nashville lead at 6:13 of the third period. Then Crawford appeared to do his best Dave Bolland impression, and the comeback was on.

“Our starts need to be better,” Quenneville said. “We got going as the game progressed. But I think that’s been our M.O. for most of the games this year. We get better as the games progress. Tonight, [we needed] to find a way to win.”