Blackhawks hold off Predators as Ray Emery earns shutout
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org April 6, 2013 4:46PM
Updated: May 8, 2013 7:07AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At this point in the season, the Blackhawks aren’t playing for much. They’re not fighting for their playoff lives, as they were at this point last season. They’re not fighting for their jobs, either, with a quiet trade deadline now in the past.
No, these last three weeks are about one thing — preparing for the playoffs. Physically, tactically, mentally.
And Saturday’s taut 1-0 victory over the endlessly frustrating Nashville Predators was a perfect start.
“Our team’s kind of mindful of playing some playoff hockey, where we’re limiting chances and really bearing down defensively,” said Hawks goalie Ray Emery, who made 20 stops — including a big one on Patric Hornqvist with 25.4 seconds left in a tense third period — to make Bryan Bickell’s first-period goal stand up and notch his second shutout in his last three starts. “And I thought we did that today.”
The win put the Hawks on the verge of becoming the first NHL team to clinch a playoff spot. They need one point to get in, not that it’s a big concern. It’s about what they do once they get to the playoffs, and third periods like this one are what they’ll need.
After squandering third-period leads in four of their last seven games, including their last two, the Hawks carried a 1-0 lead into the second intermission.
But coach Joel Quenneville didn’t talk to his team about the mistakes of the last two games, about sitting back on their heels and letting the opponent take the action to them.
Instead, he did an end-around and focused on all the good things his team had been doing in the first two periods and implored them to simply keep up the good work.
“We want to be positive going in,” Quenneville said. “We just wanted to keep playing the same way. I thought we played a strong game.”
The last time these teams met, the Hawks sat idly by as the Predators feverishly erased a 2-0 deficit in the first seven minutes of the third period.
The Hawks escaped that one with a shootout victory. But on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues, they lost in the shootout after the Blues rallied for two goals in the third.
This time, the Hawks were aggressive at both ends, creating scoring chances on one end and holding the Predators without a shot on goal during a crucial four-minute high-sticking penalty on Daniel Carcillo.
Both teams scrapped hard to the final horn — no play was more indicative of the playoff-like tension than Hornqvist racing nearly the entire length of the rink, then diving to break up an empty-net chance for Michael Frolik and Andrew Shaw with 90 seconds left — and the Hawks never appeared to be on their heels.
“Especially coming down to this time of the year, if you put yourself in a good spot after the second, you’ve got to close it out,” Emery said. “I thought we really went out there and took charge in the third.”
Emery didn’t face a high quantity of shots, but he faced plenty of high-quality chances. He was routinely dealing with heavy traffic in his crease.
“Rock-solid,” Quenneville said. “He did what he had to do. I thought he was in control around the net. Against that team, there are a lot of scrambles, a lot of loose stuff — they create traffic. And I thought he found pucks and froze them and looked very big.”
With each big save — particularly after a sleepy first two periods gave way to the tense third — the huge contingent of Hawks fans at Bridgestone Arena roared its approval.
And when the horn sounded, after one last goalmouth scrum in front of Emery, the Hawks left the ice feeling better about themselves and about their third-period mentality — for the next three weeks and beyond.
“It’s a lot more like playoff hockey now,” Carcillo said. “It’s fun out there.”