CHICAGO – Good defence is starting to become a habit again for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Jack Skille scored two goals, rookie Corey Crawford made 24 saves and the Blackhawks defeated the Nashville Predators 4-1 on Wednesday night for their third straight win.
Crawford made several tough stops but benefited from another tight, disciplined effort by defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago. He lost a bid for his first shutout this season with 8:47 left in the third period when Nashville’s Sergei Kostitsyn scored a power-play goal on a deflection.
En route to winning the Cup last season, the Blackhawks had the NHL’s fifth-best goals-against average, and second-lowest in the Western Conference.
Skating again without star forwards Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, the Blackhawks focused on keeping the Predators off the scoresheet and then pounced on turnovers.
“We controlled rebounds and stuff, but the key is we’ve been really disciplined,” Crawford said.
“We played smart,” added Skille, who has scored four of six goals this season against Nashville. “When we’re playing this way, we do a pretty good job. We’re not trying to make the pretty play.”
Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell also scored for the Blackhawks, who allowed just two Nashville power plays. Chicago has been short-handed only three times in its past three games.
“We don’t make anything too flashy out there,” Bolland said. “I think we’re finding our way now.
“Guys are finding their roles. It took a little bit longer than we wanted to.”
Crawford made his 10th start in the Blackhawks past 12 games and outduelled Nashville rookie Anders Lindback, who finished with 31 saves in his ninth straight start.
Nashville suffered its second straight regulation loss following an 8-0-2 streak.
“That was not one of our better performances this year,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “We had a lot of first effort, but not the second effort you need to win battles, to win pucks and keep plays alive.
“They checked really well today, give them credit. But we didn’t force them to break down a whole lot.”
Lindback was backed up by veteran Pekka Rinne, who returned to the Predators’ active roster after missing eight games after having an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee.
Lindback was 6-0-1 with two shutouts in his first seven games after taking over for Rinne. In a 6-1 loss to Los Angeles on Saturday, he was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots.
The 22-year-old Swede rebounded against the Blackhawks, but still made a few mistakes.
“They scored a couple of big goals and I think I could have taken a couple of them,” Lindback said. “I’m not really happy with the way we lost.”
The six-foot-six goalie had only himself to blame on Chicago’s first goal. Bolland scored with 7:31 left in the first period following a bad pass by Lindback.
The goalie tried to fire the puck quickly up the right-wing boards to Nashville defenceman Kevin Klein, but the pass was picked off by Chicago’s Fernando Pisani. He passed to Bolland, who was alone in front of the net and beat Lindback after deking him to the ice.
Skille’s power-play goal midway through the second made it 2-0. After taking a pass from Bolland, Skille’s shot from the right circle went off Lindback’s glove, clanked off the right post and landed in the net.
Crawford made several of his best saves in the second. Among them were a pad stop on Joel Ward 3:40 into the period and a block of Cal O’Reilly’s drive from the slot just after Skille’s goal.
Skille made it 3-0 at 9:14 of the third period on a quick, screen shot from the high slot.
Kostitsyn ended Crawford’s shutout bid just under two minutes later by deflecting in Martin Erat’s low shot during a power play.
Bickell completed the scoring with 2:32 remaining.
Notes: Crawford has one career shutout, earned in March 2008 against Anaheim during a callup from the minors. … Kane missed his seventh game with an injured left ankle. Hossa sat out his 10th game with a lower-body injury, but has resumed skating. … Chicago LW Viktor Stalberg missed his third game with concussion-like symptoms. … Nashville C David Legwand missed his 15th game with a lower-body injury. … Predators RW Jordin Tootoo and D Alexander Sulzer were healthy scratches.