NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Trouble began for the Blackhawks before opening puck drop when Marian Hossa was scratched, continued in the first period when Nikolai Khabibulin exited the ice in pain and came to a head when the defending Stanley Cup champions mostly sleep-walked through the rest of the game.
Playing a weary Predators team that was playing the second of back-to-back games following a grueling seven-game trip that lasted 17 days, the Hawks posted their worst performance of the season in a 7-2 loss Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena. The Hawks had their four-game winning streak snapped and failed to earn a point for the first time in eight contests.
Craig Smith had a goal and two assists, Matt Cullen a goal and an assist while Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling and Viktor Stalberg also scored as the Predators ended a four-game losing skid. Backup goaltender Marek Mazanec made 39 saves to earn the victory against the NHL’s top-scoring team.
Patrick Kane and Brandon Pirri had goals for the Hawks but they were never in it after Khabibulin yielded two goals in the first period before leaving with an injury.
The Hawks departed Nashville dealing with more than a loss as the status of Hossa, who appeared in the pregame warm-up but was a late scratch with a lower-body injury, is in doubt for Sunday night’s game against the Sharks at the United Center.
What happens with the backup goaltending situation is also unclear as Khabibulin departed the game after suffering an injury with 4 minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the first period. It was already a big game for Khabibulin as the veteran has been ineffective this season, having entered with an ugly 4.73 goals-against average.
The Predators didn’t look like a weary team in the first period as they hit Khabibulin with goals 37 seconds apart to establish control early. Cullen opened the scoring when he dove to poke in a loose puck after Khabibulin had made a left pad save on a Smith blast. With the crowd still buzzing, Spaling made it 2-0 when the forward carried the puck into the Hawks zone and ripped a shot past Khabibulin.
Things then got worse for the veteran netminder when he flailed at a Shea Weber shot that missed the net and went to the ice. While down, Khabibulin scooted over to halt an attempt by Hornqvist and did not get up. He left the ice hunched over and Corey Crawford replaced him.
In the second, Hornqvist redirected a long shot by Roman Josi while on the power play and Smith finished after a Hawks turnover and the rout was on at 4-0.
In the waning moments of the second, Kane scored his team-high 11th goal of the season when he beat Mazanec between the pads to cut the deficit to 4-1.
In the third, Pirri gave the Hawks some life when he redirected a Brent Seabrook shot but former Hawks winger Stalberg made it 5-2 with a goal 15 seconds later. Mike Fisher and Shea Weber finished the scoring as the game got totally out of hand.