Blackhawks close out their road trip at 10-0-2
When considering the game in Nashville tonight, it might have seemed a coin toss who would win. The Blackhawks were on the final game of a six-game road trip that covered 5,300 miles since January 29th. The team would be headed home to Chicago after the game, and you have to think that weighed on their minds.
In the meantime, Nashville shut out the defending Stanley Cup champs 3-0 on Thursday night and then played a tough game in Minnesota on Saturday night, where the Wild beat them 2-1 in overtime.
The team that looked more fatigued on the ice on Sunday night? The Predators.
By the end of the first period, the game remained scoreless, although the Blackhawks were already outshooting the Preds 10-4. Nashville's style is tough, patient, and physical: if they can't match the other team's speed, then they at least hope to slow them down. Instead, they spent much of the game pinned into their own zone, a trend that would continue throughout the game.
Andrew Shaw and Richard Clune had a fight that was more of a hockey dance early in the second. The two wrestled briefly, neither landing any decent punches, before Shaw was able to topple Clune to the ice. Aside from this pair of five-for-fightning majors, it was a very low penalty game: the Hawks would take just one more to the Predators' two.
Marcus Kruger put the Blackhawks on the board 6:14 into the second, with an unassisted goal. Just 1:06 later, a Duncan Keith blast deflected off Jonathan Toews, pulling Chicago ahead 2-0. The goal was Toews' 150th in the NHL.
The Predators applied more pressure in the third. They were able to get in 10 SOG that period to bring the game total to 17. The only goal scored that period, however, was a tough-angle Patrick Kane shot reminiscent of his 2010 Cup-winning goal, making the game 3-0.
Corey Crawford brought his season totals to 7-0-2, with .935 sv% and just 1.62 GAA, making him 4th in the league for sv% and 3rd in the league for GAA. It was his 6th career shutout, and the first the Blackhawks have had in almost two years, since April 21, 2011 -- 101 games and 630 days later.
The Blackhawks remain the only team undefeated in regulation. To put that record into perspective: the Blackhawks have won more games (10) than the Flames have played so far (9). Chicago has also won more games (10) than seven teams have total points earned: Islanders and Panthers: 9; Flames, Avalanche, Kings, and Blue Jackets: 8; Capitals: 7.
During the first dozen games of the season, they faced the tough Coyotes twice on Phoenix ice, took three games in a row to shootouts in four nights, and despite facing some of the (historically) stingiest goaltenders in the NHL, skated away with a +17 goal differential.
They head home to Chicago, where they will play seven games at the United Center before a trip to St. Louis at the end of the month.
Chicago's 10-0-2 record is the best start since the 2006-2007 Ducks went 12-0-4 to start their season and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
But the Blackhawks aren't thinking ahead that far, they insist. They're taking it game by game, and focusing on the here-and-now instead.
"We're a confident group, but we're not a cocky or arrogant group. And I think that bodes well for us in the long run," Duncan Keith said in post-game interviews.
As long as the Blackhawks remain that way, this could have all the makings of a very special season in Chicago.
* * *
Final score: Blackhawks 3, Predators 0
CHI goals: Kruger, Toews, Kane
3) Corey Crawford
2) Patrick Kane
1) Marcus Kruger
Winning goalie: Corey Crawford, 0 GAA / 1.00 sv%
Losing goalie: Pekka Rinne, 3 GAA / 0.889 sv%
Next game: Tuesday 2/12 vs ANA Ducks at the United Center, Chicago; Blackhawks magnetic schedule giveaway