ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Chicago Blackhawks have gotten into a nice little pattern as of late. Play good defensive hockey, take advantage of what scoring opportunities you get, and watch Ray Emery do the rest.
Marian Hossa scored the lone goal, and Emery recorded his third shutout in his last five starts as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 1-0 at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks, who have won three in a row, improved to 30-5-4 (64 points) overall.
[HIGHLIGHTS: Hossa leads Hawks to victory over Wild]
Patrick Sharp returned after missing 14 games with a left-shoulder injury. He looked good, playing nearly 18 minutes and taking five shots on goal.
The Blackhawks haven’t allowed opponents much in recent games, especially in Nashville on Saturday and in Minnesota tonight. Emery has allowed even less. The veteran goaltender, who as of mid-March hadn’t had a shutout in several seasons, now has three in the last two weeks.
“He’s unbelievable with how he’s playing,” said Hossa, who scored his fifth game-winning goal of the season tonight. “He’s so strong, and it seems he’s so poised in the net. Even on great chances for them, he makes them look easy.”
Emery, who stopped all 20 shots he saw tonight, has downplayed the whole who’s-the-No. 1-goalie talk. And he did it again tonight.
“We’re both just trying to do our best when we have the opportunity to play,” he said. “You can’t control when you get the start. You just want to be ready.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said Emery was “solid, finding pucks and the defense played well in front of him. Ray’s been doing a great job for us, and it was nice to see him pitch a shutout.”
Asked if tonight’s outing puts the decision of who starts Friday against Detroit up in the air, Quenneville said, “No. We’ll talk about it. But we have an idea of what we’re going to do.”
With 10 games remaining heading into tonight, the Blackhawks just wanted to keep playing the strong, defensively responsible hockey that’s gotten them to the Western Conference peak. It was there tonight, as the Blackhawks limited the Wild on choice scoring opportunities.
Niklas Backstrom was stellar for the Wild, stopping 30-of-31; and it would’ve been tough to stop the one he did allow. Hossa anticipated well and picked off a Clayton Stoner pass. A few seconds later, Hossa scored his 14th of the season.
“Anticipating is one thing that’s part of his game, and that’s exactly what happened on the play,” Quenneville said. “It was a nice finish. They’ve had some real good looks as a line but no production to reflect it. But it was timely. It was nice to get that lead.”
And Emery once again held it.
The Blackhawks are just about fully healthy again. Dave Bolland (lower body) is the lone player sidelined, and Quenneville didn’t want to rule him out for Friday night’s game vs. Detroit. The Blackhawks like what they’re doing now, and like how they’re reaching optimum health at the optimal time.
“We’ve felt pretty good about our team,” Hossa said. “Even with the ‘fifth line,’ there are great players who don’t get into the lineup. We’re strong up front and the defense played great. Ray’s been unbelievable last three games. So far we are pleased.”