One week since the Super Bowl claimed its victor, it was time for the Blackhawks to claim victory on the final night of their 6-game road trip on Sunday night in Nashville. The team has been on a two week road trip covering western Canada, the sunny south and now the home of country music.
The Predators played on Saturday night in Minnesota and went all the way to overtime and then a shootout where they came up short losing 2-1. The Hawks already had a practice in Nashville and were awaiting the Sunday night central division grudge match. It was said the talk around the locker room was that the energy was high and the excitement of returning home to Chicago and a seven-game home stand was even more enticing. The Hawks have only played at the United Center twice this season and rolled into Nashville on Sunday with a 9-0-2 record, the best in the NHL.
Although Ray Emery has played great his last two outings, it was Corey Crawford’s turn to regain the net. Pekka Rinne got the call for the Predators with Chris Mason playing the night before. Michal Rozsival found his way back in the lineup with Sheldon Brookbank, Dan Carcillo and Brandon Bollig watching from the sidelines. Coach Q didn’t want to disrupt his current line up following the good old phrase,” if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.
The first period opened up with 20-year old Brandon Saad peppering Rinne early. Brandon Yip and Mike Fisher also had their chances on Crawford. Johnny Oduya looked to be a Pred at one point as he set the puck up on a platter for one of the Preds, but Crawford was there to shut the door. That was about all Nashville would fire Crawford’s way in the period.
The Hawks started to pour it on while Jonathan Toews’ line leading the charge. Saad again had another chance on net. Noticing a trend here? Crawford gets lucky midway through the period as Nick Spaling watches a puck slide right along, but not over the goal line keeping the score at zeros. Duncan Keith sends Patrick Sharp in after a sweet little flip pass. Sharp beats Rinne, but can’t beat iron as he rings one off the right post. Patrick Kane was at it again, pulling the spin-o-rama and spotting an open Dave Bolland, Rinne shuts the door and the period ends with the Hawks leading in shots 10-3 but nothing to show for on the score board. Saad ends with four shots of his own during that period.
Coach Q must have reminded the gents that this was their last road game and that they would be sleeping in their own beds soon. Andrew Shaw sets the tone early in the second with a nice waltz at center ice with dance partner Rich Clune. The ice was littered with equipment, but the punches were scarce and the fight was done.
Hawks get their first attempt on the power play as Sergei Kostitsyn gets his stick in Toews hands and is called for hooking. With Shaw serving his five minute fighting major, Bryan Bickell stood tall in front of the net.
At the 13:46 mark, Marcus Kruger lets a bullet go from the offensive side of the blue line and it finds its way past Rinne putting the Hawks up 1-0. Kruger capitalized when Roman Josi (or Josi Roman as Steve Konroyd calls him) turned the puck over to Kruger inside the Preds zone, kicking the puck right to Kruger, who immediately released his shot.
No more than 66 seconds later, Keith puts a backhand on Rinne and Toews is there. The puck bounces off his glove and in for a 2-0 lead.
Moments later Kruger gets called for a trip. This would be the first and only minor penalty the Hawks would surrender all game. With 53 seconds expiring on the power play, Saad tries to break away shorthanded and Martin Erat has no other choice but to trip him from a breakaway. You know the Hawks are playing with loads of confidence, when during the 4 on 4 Saad and Shaw saw the majority of the ice. The Preds finishing the period throwing a few more shots on net but still only totalled 4 for the period and were being dominated 20-7.
The final frame saw Crawford staring at the score board and looking up to the hockey Gods for the Hawks first shutout since April 21, 2011 in the playoffs against Vancouver. His last regular season shutout came on March 23, 2011 when he made 23 saves against the Florida Panthers at the United Center.
It didn’t take long for Kane to add to his five game point streak as he crosses the blue line and sends a shot on net. Now, if you remember the 2010 Stanley Cup final, you will remember that Kaner put a low shot to beat Flyers net minder Michael Leighton through the legs. Although Kane was the only Hawk to celebrate he knew it was in and tonight was more of the same. The Hawks are up 3-0 at this stage and turn their focus to defensive hockey to help Crawford get the shutout he deserves.
Crawford didn’t see a lot of rubber all night, but when he did he was stellar, robbing Fisher on the doorstep. The Preds were determined to break the donut, but Crawford had bigger intensions. All three lines were flying with odd man rushes becoming normal.
The Pred wouldn’t quit, sending a barrage of shots toward Crawford, but not tonight. He stops all 17 shots they threw at him claiming his 6 career shutout and breaking the shutout curse that the Hawks have been plagued with, for a 3-0 win.
-The faceoff dot was not a pleasant place, with not one Hawk center over 50%. Toews was the closest at 50% right on.
–Johnny Oduya led all Hawks with 21:43 of ice time, narrowly beating out Niklas Hjalmarsson’s 20:58 and Duncan Keith’s 20:28. Patrick Sharp led all forwards in ice time with 19:38. His line mate Patrick Kane had 19:21. Toews played 17:18.
–Michal Rozsival was welcomed back into the line up and racked up an assist on Kane’s goal.
-The Hawks killed off the 53 seconds of Preds power play time and were 0 for 2 on the power play themselves.
-Their record now stands at 10-0-2 while going 4-0-2 on this six game road trip getting 10 points out of a possible 12.
-They now travel home to the United Center where they will play their next 7 games at home spanning over a 15 day period.
-The first test comes on Tuesday as the Anaheim Ducks fly into town to challenge the undefeated Hawks.
On Twitter @CMM_Brad