CHICAGO — Marian Hossa was everywhere. Jonathan Toews powered Chicago to a big second period and Brandon Saad had a key play for the Blackhawks.
Chicago’s skilled top line found plenty of room to roam with Shea Weber out with an injury.
Toews had a goal and an assist, Hossa had two assists in a dazzling performance and the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 4-2 on Sunday for a 2-1 lead in the first-round NHL playoff series.
Toews, Saad and Brent Seabrook scored in the second period to help Chicago earn its 20th win in its past 24 home playoff games. Scott Darling made 35 saves, and Andrew Desjardins got his third career playoff goal in the first as the Blackhawks bounced back after Friday night’s 6-2 loss in Nashville.
“We’ve been here a while and went pretty deep the past two years,” Saad said. “We know what we need to do. At the same time, after Game 2, we know we needed to be better. I think everyone brought it tonight.”
Mike Ribeiro and Mattias Ekholm scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne had 26 saves.
The Predators were without Weber and forward Mike Fisher, who were sidelined by lower-body injuries. Fisher is day to day, but Weber did not travel with the team to Chicago, and the star defenseman likely will be out for Game 4 on Tuesday night as well.
“Obviously, Shea’s a big presence, and we’re going to miss him on our back end,” said Roman Josi, who usually plays with Weber on Nashville’s top defensive pairing. “But I thought we played a pretty good game, and it could have gone the other way, too.”
Darling, a native of the Chicago suburb of Lemont, was solid in his first postseason start after Corey Crawford was ineffective in the first two games of the series. The rookie also replaced Crawford in Game 1 and made 42 stops as the Blackhawks rallied for a 4-3 victory in double overtime.
“The guys have been unbelievable and really helped me out today,” Darling said.
Coach Joel Quenneville did not announce his goaltender for Game 4 but talked as if Darling would get another start.
“We’ll talk about it, but certainly he did everything he could to put himself back in the net,” Quenneville said. “I thought he was rock solid today.”
The Predators’ convincing victory in Game 2 led Quenneville to try a different look for the Blackhawks’ first home game of the playoffs. Darling was in goal, and forwards Antoine Vermette and Desjardins entered the lineup after they were healthy scratches for the first two games.
Chicago acquired Vermette and Desjardins in a pair of trades right before the deadline, but the veterans had struggled with the Blackhawks. Given another chance in the playoffs, Desjardins responded with his best game since the March 2 trade with San Jose.
Desjardins’ first playoff goal in three years gave Chicago a 1-0 lead at 14:48 of the first. He also keyed a long stretch in the Nashville zone in the second that Seabrook finished with a hard wrist shot from the high slot, making it 4-2 with 7:19 left in the period.
“I was kind of waiting, ready,” Desjardins said. “Been working hard. I was just working hard, and fortunate to get in the game tonight.”
Weber left in the second period of Game 2 after he was checked into the boards by Saad. In addition to his responsibilities on Nashville’s top defensive pairing, the captain is a key part of the Predators’ special teams.
“Certainly we’d rather have Shea, but that’s not an option,” Coach Peter Laviolette said.
Without Weber on the ice, Chicago’s top line helped the Blackhawks grab control in the second.
Hossa made a nice drop pass to Toews for the center’s second goal of the series just 36 seconds into the period, giving Chicago a 2-1 lead. After Ekholm responded for Nashville just 22 seconds later, Saad took the puck from Predators forward Colin Wilson and beat Rinne with a perfectly placed shot off the inside of the left post at 3:38.
“Speed kills, and I thought at times they had some really good jump out of their zone,” Predators forward Craig Smith said. “We’ve got to control that with our third forward and communication.”
Toews then picked up an assist with a nice pass on Seabrook’s 13th career playoff goal. The captain has a team-high five points in the series.