NASHVILLE, Tenn.—During exhibitions it appeared the Blackhawks had a more potent offense, but in Thursday night's season opener in Nashville they looked more like the Edmonton Oilers circa 1985 than the slogging, impotent unit that has been on display the last couple of seasons.
Wiping out a two-goal deficit after barely five minutes of play, the Hawks outgunned a Nashville Predators team with Stanley Cup aspirations 8-6 behind Martin Havlat's two-goal, two-assist night.
But it wouldn't have been as much fun to watch. The eight goals were the most for the Hawks since they beat the Boston Bruins 8-5 on March 9, 2003a span of 177 games.
For a while, it looked as though nothing had changed when Nashville jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 4 minutes 43 seconds on goals by J.P. Dumont at the 39-second mark and Kimmo Timonen on a power play.
"I didn't know what to think after that," defenseman Brent Seabrook said.
"The boys didn't panic."
Last season's Hawks likely would have folded up shop and taken a 5-1 or 6-1 beating.
Havlat, however, wasn't around for last year's troubles and doesn't carry around the baggage that follows his new team.
"I was thinking there were 56 minutes left," Havlat said. "We'll try to get back on track and win the game."
He got his mates on track only 32 seconds after Timonen's goal, taking a pass from Duncan Keith at center ice and breaking in alone on Nashville goalie Tomas Vokoun.
Havlat flipped a backhander past Vokoun in what would be perhaps his most pedestrian point of the four.
The goal ignited a three-goal flurry with Patrick Sharp tying the game 3:26 later and Michal Handzus giving the Hawks the lead at 10:24. Despite being outshot and outplayed for most of the period, the Hawks went into the dressing room with the lead.
It lasted all of 1:48 into the second, however, when David Legwand scored the first of his two goals and Joseph Vasicek redirected Martin Erat's shot past Nikolai Khabibulin to put Nashville up 4-3.
On the Hawks' first power play of the night, however, Havlat weaved through defenders and sent a backhand pass through the crease for Martin Lapointe to bang past a shaky Vokoun to tie the game 4-4 going into the third.
"That play on the power play was unbelievable," Seabrook said of Havlat's pass.
Rene Bourque scored a short-handed goal, Bryan Smolinski converted on the power play and Radim Vrbata scored at even strength at 13:08 of the third to give the Hawks a 7-4 lead.
Nashville closed the gap on goals from Legwand and Sullivan but Havlat's empty-netter, in which he turned around Timonen in open ice, iced the game.
If nothing else, Thursday showed Havlat might be the best pure skill player the Hawks have had since Denis Savard was dazzling fans in old Chicago Stadium.
"Your best players have to be your best players," coach Trent Yawney said. "Martin Havlat was very good."