Soft goals, hard-earned win

SportsSoccerNashville PredatorsNHLChicago BlackhawksNikolai KhabibulinTomas Vokoun

What goes around usually comes around pretty quickly in sports. Monday night in Denver, the Blackhawks lost a game on what would be considered a bad goal in the final seconds against the Avalanche.

Wednesday night they were the beneficiaries of three soft goals in a four-goal first period. They made the victory stand up—though not without some drama—in a 4-3 decision over the Nashville Predators before an announced crowd of 10,755 at the United Center.

After losing the first five games of the season decisively to Nashville, the Hawks have won the last two and will close out the season series Saturday in Nashville.

"We lost on a bad goal [Monday], and we won on one," Hawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin said.

With starting Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun nursing a sore back, the Hawks took advantage of a shaky Chris Mason.

The Hawks grabbed the lead at 8 minutes 37 seconds of the first period when Duncan Keith sneaked in from the right point and one-timed a perfect pass from Matthew Barnaby past Mason for his ninth goal of the season.

The Predators tied it on a breakaway from Greg Johnson at 13:16 before Mason and backup Pekka Rinne opened the floodgates.

Patrick Sharp beat Mason through the pads at 15:06 for his third goal in four games. Mark Bell threw a shot from the left faceoff circle that somehow got past Mason 1:46 later, and in came Rinne in relief of Mason.

That didn't help as Rene Bourque walked out from behind the Predators net and flipped a backhand between Rinne and the post to make it 4-1.

"It's always hard to give up bad goals," Khabibulin said. "But it's better early than with a few seconds left."

Mason came back to start the second period and stopped the next 16 shots as Nashville scored twice to pull to within one.

Considering the Hawks' penchant for finding ways to give up leads, it was an ominous sign when Michal Barinka went off for holding at 17:33 of the third period to give Nashville a power play and a chance to tie.

"I had a little flashback [to Monday]," Khabibulin said.

One-timers

Tuomo Ruutu said he could return to the Hawks lineup as early as this weekend. Ruutu, who has been practicing for about a month, has been played by injuries the last two seasons. … Defenseman Jassen Cullimore had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and hip last week. The surgery was a result of an injury March 17 against Anaheim. Cullimore said his hip started bothering him before the Olympic break. The surgery was to repair a torn muscle. He will be on crutches another five weeks. … Coach Trent Yawney's selection as an assistant for Canada during the world championships in May is a measure of validation despite a tough first NHL season. Yawney is looking forward to the experience. "It's neat to pick up things from other people," he said.

rfoltman@tribune.com

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