By Brad Vandenberk
Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, it’s time to get down to business and make the final push for the playoffs.
The Hawks only acquisition before 3pm EST Wednesday, was Michal Handzus from the San Jose Sharks. He made a great first impression on Thursday in Chicago winning important face offs and proving to Stan Bowman that his only deal was a good one.
Today was a trip to Smashville to play the pesky Predators. Although the Preds are on the outside of the playoffs looking in, they still give the Hawks trouble when they meet. This would be the second meeting between these teams within five days and this game is the first of a home and home series with the Preds invading the UC on Sunday evening.
Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp did not make the flight to Nashville and it is still undetermined when they will return to the line up.
With Handzus playing as well as he did on Thursday, coach Q decided to start him in the 3rd line center position alongside Bryan Bickel and Viktor Stalberg, bouncing Andrew Shaw down to the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Michael Frolik. Daniel Carcillo got to tape his shin pads and play with Patrick Kane and center Marcus Kruger. Obviously the line of Johnny Toews, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad stayed together. Ray Emery got the call between the pipes as Corey Crawford played on Thursday and will most likely get the call on the back end of this home and home. Jamal Mayers and Michal Rozsival had a bird’s eye view of this game. Pekka Rinne was shown the crease for the home team.
The game opened with usual Predators hockey, trying to be aggressive and get the puck off their opponents. But with the Hawks, you can’t hit what you can’t catch.
The Hawks showed their speed right off the hop and this was causing trouble for the Preds defense. Rinne was called upon to make some keys saves early. Emery also had to look sharp as the Preds got a few chances to light the lamp.
At the 14:29 mark of the period Kruger was heading off for a change, but not before he tips a puck to Handzus who breaks in on a 2 on 1 with Bickell. Handzus keeps the puck long enough to get the Preds defenseman to challenge him before he saucers a pass over to Bickell. At this point Rinne was completely beat and all Bickell had to do was send the puck home. The crowd roars as the Hawks take a 1-0 lead.
After the goal, Blackhawks fans took command of Bridgestone Arena with a GO Hawks Go chant. There were a lot of Hawks fans in Nashville this afternoon.
The Preds get their first attempt to tie the game with Brent Seabrook getting called for hooking on Nick Spalding. Emery made some great saves to keep the Hawks in the lead. It wasn’t easy for the Hawks to generate anything from the smothering Predators. Kane gets a chance as he walks out of the corner but Rinne denies him the goal. Shea Weber wrists a shot on net and it hits Sheldon Brookbank but Emery makes a great stop coming from east to west. The period ends with the Hawks outshooting the Preds 10-5 and leading the game 1-0.
The second period started with a scary moment for Kane. As he was trying to come out of his own zone he seems to loose and edge and slide into his own goal post. He was slow to get up and headed to the Hawks locker room for further evaluation. It didn’t take long as Kane was back on the bench seconds later.
Nashville tries their best to tie the match as Bobby Butler rings one off the post. Seabrook lets a point shot go and Hossa is on the doorstep for the rebound but Rinne gobbles it up. Hossa again walks out from behind the net all alone and sends a back hander on Rinne. This is not the same net minder that the Hawks faced on Monday; he wanted his revenge for the 3-2 loss. Niklas Hjalmarsson slowly makes his way up the ice and gets his pocket picked by David Legwand. Emery makes an incredible save. Emery continues to stand tall looking for his second shutout in his last three starts. It’s now the Hawks turn to get a power play chance and add to their lead as Legwand heads to the box for tripping Kane. Kane has a wide open short side attempt and sends it wide. Kane reaches into his bag of tricks and pulls out, you guessed it, another spin-o-rama finding a streaking Carcillo. Rinne makes a gigantic save keeping the Preds within one and ending the period still being outshot 23-13.
The Hawks keep coming to open the final frame. We all know that the final period hasn’t been their best as they have been outscored 11-5. Only having a 1 goal lead at this stage, tensions were in the air. Hawks still buzz around Rinne trying not to squander their lead, but add to it instead. Shea Weber sells a great high sticking penalty after he hammers Carcillo into the boards. While Carcillo is horizontal his stick comes up and clips Weber who looks like he was shot. However, blood poured from his nose and the Hawks would be down a man for four minutes. During the penalty kill, Saad continues their dominate for check and hammers Weber awkwardly into the boards. Toews also breaks in with a shorthanded opportunity. Legwand sends a shot wide past Emery and the Hawks penalty kill does it again not allowing Nashville with a single shot on net during the four minute span. Now it was time for the Ray Emery show. He stood on his head for the final 10 minutes of the period. Although the Hawks didn’t play on their heels like they have in the past final periods. They continued to push and fire shots on Rinne. With 1:30 remaining in the game, the Preds send Rinne to the bench. Frolik and Shaw break in on a 2 on 1 with and empty net. Patric Hornqvist makes an unbelievable effort hustling back and dives to stop the goal slamming into the net sending it off its morings. The Preds final get their 6th attacker out and Seabrook makes a great play at the side of the net in the dying seconds sending a sure goal wide of the net. The crowd erupts and Emery earns the shutout as the Hawks blank the Preds 1-0.
-Hawks outshot the Preds 30-20.
-Both teams did not capitalize on the power play as the Hawks went 0/1 and the Preds go 0/3.
-The Hawks dominated the faceoff circle with newly acquired Handzus winning 10 out of 15. Toews won 11 out of 17 and Shaw was 4 for 5. Kruger was the lone wolf under 50% winning only 3 of 10 draws.
-Duncan Keith led all Hawks with 27:00 TOI. Hjalmarsson was next with 25:17. He was Keith’s D partner.
-Toews led the team with 6 shots on goal and no points to show for it.
-The Hawks have the ability to clinch a playoff spot if both the Oilers and Coyotes loose on Saturday night.
-Next up the Hawks face these same Preds on Sunday evening at the UC. Its unknown who will start the game in net, my guess would be to follow up with Emery as he continues to shine earning his 13th career shutout.
Follow on Twitter @CMM_Brad