Sweet stick music: Hawks roll to third straight win

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Sweet stick music: Hawks roll to third straight win

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Posted 9:35 p.m. Updated 10:40 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

NASHVILLE - The Chicago Blackhawks have squandered some opportunities this season when they didnt play a strong defensive game. On Thursday, their ability to do that earned them one of their biggest victories of the season.

WATCH: Crawford, Hawks hungry

Tomas Kopecky, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp scored and Corey Crawford earned his third shutout this season in a 3-0 victory over the Nashville Predators. The Blackhawks, who have now won three in a row and four out of their last five, climbed back into the top eight of the Western Conference.

And the only thing lost on Thursday was coach Joel Quennevilles voice.

Going into the third my voice (left). It was like the first day of training camp or the first regular-season game. Id been idle for a while, said Quenneville, who was coaching in his first game since having treatment for an ulcer last week. Thursdays game was obviously a welcome sight for him.

Crawford was great but the whole defensive core played great, he said. We made some plays up to wingers and forwards. That was good was how solid we were defensively.

It was another dose of momentum for the Blackhawks, who were strong, stoic and defensive-minded from the net out. Crawford stopped all 31 shots he faced and his teammates blocked another 21 shots 13 by defensemen.

It seems like every time I was trying to fight through screens our guys came up with big blocks. That makes a huge difference for a goaltender, Crawford said. We were hungry tonight all over the ice. Our forwards were getting back pressure on their rushes, helping out our D and we were making great plays to get out of our zone.

And when the Predators made mistakes, the Blackhawks turned it into offense. The Blackhawks were about to get a power play late in the first period but Kopecky, the extra attacker on the delayed call, took a pretty Sharp pass and scored.

Hossa was next, causing a Predators turnover then splitting the defensemen en route to a breakaway goal and a 2-0 lead early in the third.

WATCH: Hossa relieved after game

It felt good just to have a regular goal, said Hossa, whose last three goals have been two empty netters and a penalty shot. Ive had some good chances but the puck doesnt want to go in. I saw the puck was coming straight in front of me. I just had to out-skate the defensemen.

Sharp added the empty-net goal with 31 seconds remaining.
After shutting out the Predators, Corey Crawford improved to 21-12-3 this season with a 2.11 goals against average and .923 save percentage. (AP)
(Our focus) needs to stay right where its at, knowing that we havent done anything yet, said Duncan Keith, who had a team-high four blocked shots. Its been a nice couple of wins here that we can really build off of and try to keep it going.

The Blackhawks are gaining momentum that they hope finally leads to that lengthy winning streak thats eluded them so far this season. Theyre feeling better. But given the crazy West race, they know they cant get too comfortable.

There shouldn't be any complacency, Quenneville said. You want to keep pushing ahead. In the rear-view mirror, its so tight. Were never in a place where we should feel comfortable.
Briefly

Niklas Hjalmarsson missed a few shifts at the end of Thursday nights game. Quenneville said the defenseman has an upper-body injury but that it doesnt look like its serious.

Kopeckys goal was his 11th of the season, giving him a new career high.

Sharps goal was his 32nd of the season.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

“Obviously [I want to] get back and playing the same way,” Kruger said. “First I want to get healthy and then get back playing my best and do everything I can for the team.”

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Corey Crawford will start but Marcus Kruger won't play yet when the Blackhawks host the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.

Scott Darling is coming off a 30-stop shutout in the Blackhawks' 1-0 victory over Boston on Friday night. Coach Joel Quenneville said there was some consideration given to start Darling in this one, too, but, "at the same time we want Crow playing as much as he can to get back to the great pace he had prior to being away."

"He hasn't been bad. But certainly that's what we're looking for him to get back to," Quenneville said on Crawford. "I like giving Darls some consideration. We'll see but [Darling] certainly enhanced his positioning."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Meanwhile, Marcus Kruger skated with the Blackhawks for the first time since hurting his hand against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 30. He took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice but was not among the line rushes. Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is for either Tuesday or Thursday but, "knowing we have that [All-Star] break, we'll see how he feels and what our options are."

Kruger said he felt, "pretty close."

"I tried to take it day by day and prepare to play," Kruger said. "Obviously not tonight, but the next game we will see." 

BLACKHAWKS VS. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
6:30 p.m.
TV: WGN
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks
Forward lines

Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Vinnie Hinostroza-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Andrew Desjardins-Dennis Rasmussen-Nick Schmaltz

Defensive pairs
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender
Corey Crawford

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Marcus Kruger (right arm).

Vancouver Canucks (via Canucks)
Forward lines

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi-Bo Horvat-Alex Burrows
Markus Granlund-Brandon Sutter-Jayson Megna
Brendan Gaunce-Michael Chaput-Jack Skille

Defensive Pairs
Alex Edler-Troy Stecher
Luca Sbisa-Chris Tanev
Alex Biega-Nikita Tryamkin

Goaltender
Ryan Miller

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Anton Rodin (knee), Ben Hutton (hand), Jannik Hansen (knee), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Philip Larsen (upper body), Derek Dorsett (back).