Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw (65) has his shot stopped by Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35), of Finland, and Predators defenseman Hal Gill (75) in the first period of an NHL hockey game on Saturday, March 31, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mike Strasinger)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Chicago Blackhawks are in the playoffs for a fourth straight season, and they didn't have to wait around to the final minute of the regular season this time around.
They might want to work on their defence just a bit in the three remaining games.
Brent Seabrook scored at 8:19 of the third period, and the Blackhawks clinched a playoff spot Saturday night, beating the Nashville Predators 5-4 after blowing a 4-0 lead.
"It's a great game," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Very entertaining. I'm sure the fans enjoyed the game and nerve-racking for coaches."
Nashville won the season series 4-1-1, but Chicago pulled within a point of the fourth-place Predators in the Western Conference and tied idle Detroit with 97 points. The Blackhawks have three games left to see if they pass Detroit or Nashville for home-ice advantage to start the post-season, and only Sunday's game against Minnesota will be in Chicago.
"We'll see how it works out," Quenneville said. "Where we're at, we've got to catch two pretty good teams right in front of us, and so we'll see how that plays itself out."
Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland each scored power-play goals, and Viktor Stalberg had a goal. The Blackhawks had to work for their first win over Nashville this season, and Seabrook put a snap shot past goalie Pekka Rinne off a cross-ice pass from Andrew Shaw for the winning goal.
"It's one of those things," Seabrook said. "A 4-4 tie, and we just wanted to continue to work hard and continue the little things and try to get one and get the win tonight."
Shea Weber scored twice, and Alexander Radulov and Martin Erat had a goal apiece. Ryan Suter had three assists as Nashville lost for just the third time in regulation since Jan. 5. Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he thought they had a chance of at least grabbing a point after tying the game in the third.
"If you win tonight, you have a little bit of breathing room," Trotz said. "They forced us to win all three of our games now ... So it's still in our control in terms of the 4 or 5 seed. What's not in our control now is home-ice advantage."
The Blackhawks were well rested after beating St. Louis in a shootout Thursday night and had plenty of fans eager to see them clinch on the road. Nashville beat the Red Wings 4-1 on Friday night in Detroit before flying back home, and it showed in the opening minutes as the Blackhawks took the first six shots.
But Matt Halischuk went to the box for high-sticking at 1:38, and the Blackhawks converted on Sharp's 32nd goal this season as he beat Rinne's outstretched left leg at 2:25 of the first. Nashville had given up two power-play goals in the past 14 games, and the Predators gave up their second in this game when Bolland scored off a pass from Marian Hossa 1:05 into the second period.
The Blackhawks appeared ready to avenge a 6-1 loss to Nashville on March 25 in Chicago as Kane scored on a breakaway under Rinne's right leg at 6:50 of the second, and Stalberg scored at 8:35 on a shot that spun Rinne around after the goalie had stopped the first shot.
Nashville finally got going after Bolland went to the box for interference. Erat scored from the right circle off an assist from Ryan Suter at 9:29, and Weber made it 4-2 when he scored off a snap shot 49 seconds later.
Radulov pulled the Predators to 4-3 by splitting Chicago defencemen Sean O'Donnell and Seabrook skating up the slot, and beating goalie Corey Crawford with a backhander to his glove side at 4:38 of the third. Then Weber tied it with a power-play goal off a slap shot at 7:10.
"I thought we showed great character coming back," Trotz said.
Chicago took back the lead on Seabrook's goal at 8:19. He got his ninth on a snap shot off a cross-ice pass from Andrew Shaw. Nashville had plenty of chances, but Crawford didn't let another puck past.
"He was big and solid for us," Quenneville said about his goalie.
Notes: Chicago improved to 25-7-2 when scoring first. ... The Blackhawks now have picked up at least a point in 13 of their past 15 games. ... Nashville centre David Legwand had two assists, making him the first player in Nashville history with 500 career points. ... Erat has a career-high 58 points. With his assists, Suter has a career-high 46 points. ... Nashville added to its franchise record with its 22nd sellout this season.
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