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Raanta rock-solid in Blackhawks’ 3-1 victory over Predators

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Updated: December 19, 2013 10:29PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the past 34 days, the Blackhawks played 19 games, boarded 18 planes, visited 10 different cities (including Nashville and Dallas twice), lost two stars to significant injuries, and suffered three humbling, lopsided losses.

Yet through all the weariness and blowouts and injuries, they went 13-5-1.

So here they sit, the most grueling part of their schedule behind them, still atop the NHL standings, and still on a roll — if anything, more confident than ever.

“It’s been a tough schedule, and we’re playing pretty well,” Brandon Saad said. “I think we’ve done a good job of facing adversity.”

The Hawks closed out the brutal run of games Tuesday night with a 3-1 victory over Nashville — avenging arguably their worst loss of the season, a 7-2 defeat here in the second game of the stretch.

It was a familiar formula for victory for the Hawks, who scored a power-play goal for the 10th straight game (their best streak in 22 years), got another highlight-reel goal from Patrick Kane (his 20th; he now has a point in 10 straight games and 22 of 23), got another strong performance from Antti Raanta (27 saves), and got another goal and assist from Duncan Keith, who continues to bolster his candidacy for the Norris Trophy.

They even killed off 6-of-7 Predators power plays, including a three-minute disadvantage in the second period of a one-goal game that could have turned the game in a different direction.

“That was a great kill,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t [allow] set-ups and we didn’t let them do what they wanted to do. … We didn’t give them any momentum.”

Raanta, making his fifth straight start and his seventh straight appearance, improved to 7-1-1.

“He seems to get better and better every start,” Patrick Sharp said. “He battles in there. Open nets, chances for the other team — he’s making saves that he shouldn’t make. We kind of feed off that energy and want to play as well as we can for him.”

The Hawks got a power-play goal from Keith just 89 seconds into the game, and led 2-1 after the first period after Kane’s spectacular goal on a power-play rush at 16:14 — he roofed a backhander into a tiny sliver of daylight that Nashville goalie Carter Hutton left open above his left shoulder. Kane has 13 goals and 22 assists in his last 23 games, stoking MVP talk nationally.

“I don’t think he saw [the opening] with his eyes, I just think he knows it’s there,” Sharp said. “There’s only a few guys in the world that can do that.”

Nick Leddy’s power-play goal in the second — the Hawks have 10 goals on 26 power plays over their last six games — wrapped up the scoring.

Quenneville said before the game that he would remind the Hawks of their disastrous performance at Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 16, the low point of both the recent tough stretch and the entire season. But rather than look back, the Hawks would prefer to look forward to a much friendlier month ahead.

They had 12 road games in their last 34 days. They have a mere four in their next 35. And they have just two games — both at home — in the next nine days, thanks in part to the three-day NHL-mandated Christmas break.

There’s an awfully long way to go, of course. But the worst might already be behind them.

“It’s been great, but now we get a little break,” Kane said. “We’ve been playing a lot of hockey, so I think everyone’s kind of ready for a couple days here — especially back at home. We’ve been on the road, it seems like, for a long time. It’ll be nice to get back in Chicago and just relax a little bit.”

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