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