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‘New’ crew, stingy ‘D’ lift Hawks

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



With every game played, victory earned and goal scored, some of the Blackhawks’ “new” guys say their confidence has grown.

Corey Crawford, Jack Skille and Bryan Bickell played huge roles in the Hawks’ 4-1 victory Wednesday, and the team stuck to its tight-checking defensive ways against the Nashville Predators at the United Center.

Skille scored twice, and Bickell extended his point streak to five games with another goal as the Hawks rolled into their three-day Christmas break with a three-game winning streak.

Crawford (24 saves) made the big stops when he had to.

The Hawks continued to do a good job of clearing out rebounds and getting into passing lanes in front of him.

“Confidence is the key in anything you do,” Skille said. “Bickell, right now every shot seems to be going in for him, and good for him. He’s got to keep going and help this team out, and he knows that. He’s got the confidence.

“Hopefully, on a personal level, I can keep doing the same things. And we know Corey, he’s got a lot of confidence right now. He’s playing well. That definitely makes it a lot easier.”

Dave Bolland had a goal and an assist, and Duncan Keith added two assists for the Hawks, who have won eight of their last 12 games.

The Hawks’ blue line continued its strong play, allowing Crawford to see most shots and keeping the Predators to the outside.

“It was a good game by the team,’’ Skille said. ‘‘We played hard tonight, and we played smart. When we’re playing that way, we usually do a pretty good job, so it was fun tonight, that’s for sure.”

Consistency eluded Skille and Bickell early in the season, but both have excelled recently, and their ice time has increased. They’ve been huge for the Hawks with Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane recovering from injuries.

“[Bickell] is finding the net well, and Jack scored tonight,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’re missing some key guys, and our lines are more workmanlike. With that purpose, you score off it.

‘‘That’s got to be our mind-set going forward.”

Sergei Kostitsyn had a power-play goal for Nashville in the third period. But the Hawks held the Predators to five shots in the last 20 minutes. For the third consecutive game, the Hawks thwarted any rally attempts.

The emergence of Crawford and the improved play of Skille, Bickell, Jake Dowell, Troy Brouwer and other role players have buoyed the Hawks.

“We played really well as a team tonight,” Skille said. “We realized when we try to play pretty, we turn the puck over, and other teams feed off that. ... We just want to play smart as a team.”

That late dominance was another step in the right direction for the Hawks, who would blow third-period leads earlier in the season.

The Predators were coming off a 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings after five wins in a row.

Nashville never seemed on track. When the Hawks needed Crawford to make a big stop, he was there. It was another stellar effort from another “new” guy.

“The first-year guys had a great game tonight,” Crawford said.

“But, overall, it was a huge team effort.”



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