In a huge four-point game in Nashville, the Chicago Blackhawks came away with their third straight win over the Predators in front of a sold-out Bridgestone Arena. Corey Crawford was at the top of his game, making 31 saves to collect his third shutout of the season en route to a 3-0 victory.
The Predators opened the game with a lot of jump, outshooting Chicago 10-3 in the first ten-plus minutes. However, the ‘Hawks got on the board first when Tomas Kopecky scored on a delayed penalty at the 17:12 mark. He jumped on as the extra attacker, took a feed from Patrick Sharp in the high slot and wristed a shot past Pekka Rinne.
Rinne held the Preds in the game in the second with key stops. Just 1:25 into the period, Rinne was barreled into by Ryan Johnson with the puck in the crease. The play went to review, but was deemed no goal. Later on in the period, Rinne went from post-to-post to stone Duncan Keith backdoor with a clutch pad save. Chicago held the one-goal advantage after 40 minutes.
Early in the third, Marian Hossa put one nail in the coffin with his 14th goal of the year. He picked off a Cody Franson pass at the opposite blueline and beat Rinne blocker-side on a breakaway. The goal put Chicago up 2-0, and at that point it looked like it would be enough for the ‘W’.
Colin Wilson seemed to have cut the lead in half with 5:59 to go in the game, but his goal was waved off due to illegal contact with Crawford by David Legwand.
“I saw it on the replay,” Wilson said about the call, “but I’m not here to talk about the ref’s call. I really wish it had been a goal. It would have been a big goal. It’s too bad they called it off.”
The Preds never really threatened thereafter as Sharp polished off the 3-0 victory with an empty net tally.
On the heels of Tuesday’s 4-0 loss in Columbus, this was Nashville’s second straight shutout. But they put forth a much better effort than two nights ago, yet couldn’t dodge the same result.
“We’re struggling to score goals right now,” said forward Mike Fisher. “We did a better job of getting some opportunities, but we just have to find a better way to score. We have to be better in those scoring areas and bear down.”
“Every time we’ve had a little bit of a downturn, it’s been because we haven’t been able to finish,” head coach Barry Trotz added. “I’m looking at the game, and you’re not happy you got the loss, but I’m looking at our team, and there’s A: a good effort; and B: we had that Predator mentality.”
The team has lost four of their last five games at this crucial time in the season. The loss puts the Preds outside of the top eight in the Western Conference for the first time since Jan. 4. The Blackhawks propelled themselves into playoff positioning with the win.
“It is frustrating,” said forward Jerred Smithson, “but like I’ve said before, it’s key to have just a short term memory in times like this. The good thing about it is we get to play a game here in a couple days.”
Nashville will head to Dallas on Saturday before hosting Columbus on Sunday. As you would expect, the team is calling these games the “biggest of the year.”
“It’s up to the guys in here,” said defenseman Shea Weber. “We’re going to need every single guy, and there are no more excuses.”