NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The four minutes showing on the Chicago Blackhawks’ penalty side was looming with just over 12 minutes remaining in the third period.
A tough task, for sure, especially with the Blackhawks clinging to a 1-0 lead over the Nashville Predators. But with the penalty kill doing what it’s done lately, and the same true for Ray Emery, the Blackhawks made that slim lead stick.
Bryan Bickell scored his first goal in nearly a month, and Emery collected his second shutout of the season in the Blackhawks’ 1-0 victory over the Predators on Saturday afternoon. The Blackhawks now have 60 points to lead the Western Conference, holding a five-point lead over the idle Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks can clinch a playoff berth if the Phoenix Coyotes lose to the Colorado Avalanche later tonight.
Minus Patrick Sharp (shoulder) and Dave Bolland (lower body) – coach Joel Quenneville said both were questionable Sunday night when Nashville comes to Chicago
The Blackhawks had suffered some skittish third periods lately. But on Saturday, and a man down for four minutes in the final frame, they held serve.
They peppered Pekka Rinne with 30 shots, but the Nashville netminder was his usual stingy self. But the Blackhawks didn’t give up much, either. And what they did give up, Emery was there to stop.
“That’s a team you really have to play some boring hockey against,” said Emery, who stopped 20 shots for the shutout. “You just have to be with the good defensive position and take advantage when you get the opportunity. We played that strategy to a tee. We were mindful of not really giving them anything.”
And that includes Predators’ the four-minute power play. Daniel Carcillo, who played a strong game, was falling down when his stick came up and caught Nashville defenseman Shea Weber in the face. Four minutes regardless, and the Blackhawks were on the kill, which has been very good as of late.
Four minutes later, it was still good.
“That was a big four-minute kill there,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t lose momentum. The guys did a good job as far as where they were positionally. The timing of it, the four minutes’ [worth of time]: that’s why it was such a big kill. It was a key moment of the game.”
The Blackhawks got what offense they needed on a 2-on-1 with Bickell and newly acquired Michal Handzus. The veteran center, who anchored the third line on Saturday, made a perfect pass to Bickell, who scored into a wide-open net about five minutes into the game.
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“[Marcus Kruger] made a great play to pick the guy up, and I knew Zeus was going to pass it to me, Bickell said of Handzus. “His skill, his patience, he sucked the D-man and the goalie over to give me the open net.”
The Blackhawks backed off some in recent third periods. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, be it 5-on-5 or on the penalty kill. The kill was critical for them on Saturday. So was keeping the pressure on throughout.
“That’s a tough team to play against,” Emery said. “We got the lead … and we did a great job of keeping it and playing well defensively. We were able to keep that one-goal lead.”