With not even half the season gone, the Blackhawks took advantage of their last opportunity to put the Predators as far back in their rearview mirror as they could.
The teams met for the sixth and final time Sunday night at the United Center, and the Hawks came away with a 5-4 victory over their nearest Central Division pursuer to sweep a weekend series.
After a sleepy first two periods, the teams exploded in the third for a combined six goals, with the last being Patrick Kane's game-winner with 44 seconds remaining. Kane finished with two goals and an assist, John Madden scored twice and Jonathan Toews had three assists as the Hawks won their third consecutive game and seventh in their last eight.
A crowd of 21,746 saw the Hawks (26-9-3) move eight points ahead of the Predators in the Central and into the top spot in the NHL with 55 points. The Hawks, who defeated the Predators 4-1 on Saturday night in Nashville, won the season series 4-2.
"We've faced them a lot this season, and we've been pretty successful," said Kane, who won it with a rocket from the right dot past goaltender Dan Ellis, who had stopped the winger's first attempt. "They played some good games against us, but we got four points here and they get none, (so) it distances ourselves a little bit."
The Predators wasted little time grabbing the lead as Marcel Goc scored 1 minute, 25 seconds into the game. Kane tied it at 1-1 a little more than five minutes later when he chipped a shot from outside the right post over Ellis' shoulder.
Martin Erat's score 47 seconds into the second period gave Nashville a lead it held until Madden took a long pass from Andrew Ladd and broke in alone on Ellis with just less than 14 minutes left in the third. The veteran center faked a forehand shot and slid a backhander into the net.
Madden struck again with less than eight minutes left when he fired a shot from the top of the left circle that hit the stick of defenseman Ryan Suter and soared past Ellis on the stick side.
Brian Campbell's power-play score a little more than a minute later made it 4-2, and the Hawks seemed set to cruise to the win.
But goals less than a minute apart by Dan Hamhuis and Cody Franson late in the third tied it to set up Kane's heroics.
"Any time we can put separation between the team that's closest to us, it's great," said Madden, who recorded his first multigoal game with the Hawks. "I'm sure we'd like to have a little bit cleaner win than we did (Sunday). Wins are wins. They're hard to come by in this league, so we'll take them."
Duncan Keith added two assists and Antti Niemi got the win in goal as the Predators fell for the first time in 14 games this season when leading after two periods.
"It was a heartbreaking type of game," Hamhuis said. "We played better than we did (Saturday night), but Chicago's a tough place to play and they have a very good team. It would have been nice to get a point, but we came up a little short."