NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Blackhawks are so very ready to be back in Chicago, and they only want to make themselves as at home at the United Center as they have everywhere else during their season-high six-game road trip.
Marcus Kruger and Jonathan Toews each scored 66 seconds apart in the second period, and the Chicago Blackhawks remained the NHL’s lone undefeated team in regulation by beating the Nashville Predators 3-0 Sunday night.
“We’ve done some good things on this road trip,” Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said. “We want to carry that momentum back home. It’s going to be difficult to be back home, so we’re excited now to get home and play as hard and take that energy back we have on the road back home.”
Patrick Kane also added a goal in the third as the Blackhawks wrapped up this trip with their fourth straight win and improved to 10-0-2 overall and 8-0-2 away from Chicago. The Blackhawks now get to play just their third game at home Tuesday night against Anaheim when they start a seven-game homestand.
“I think we’re all excited to get home and sleep in our own beds,” Keith said. “It’s going to be good. It’s going to be exciting to play in front of our fans and play hard for them.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said they’ve talked about not wanting to change anything.
“We don’t want to feel like we’re at home now and let the air out,” he said.
Goalie Corey Crawford got Chicago’s first shutout of the season and the sixth of his career making 17 saves. The shutout ended a long drought for Chicago and especially Crawford whose last shutout in the regular season was March 23, 2011.
“However long, it was too long, and it was nice to get that for sure,” Keith said.
With his teammates blocking 14 shots, Crawford had plenty of time to drift, especially for about a 21-minute span over the final half of the first period and midway to the second when he didn’t face a single shot. Asked when he was aware of how close he was to a shutout, Crawford said he knew with about 5 minutes left.
“I didn’t want to think about it too much, but I knew about it,” Crawford said.
Nashville lost a 2-1 overtime game at Minnesota on Saturday night. Back home to start a four-game homestand, the Predators had their 17th consecutive sold-out crowd. But the Predators reverted back to their early offensive woes struggling to shoot the puck at the net.
Coach Barry Trotz said his Predators were a little tired, but didn’t work hard enough to get pucks up to the net.
They missed their best chance at scoring when Nick Spaling’s backhander sent the puck sliding across the crease before hitting off the far post at 10:02 of the first period. Nashville managed only three shots on goal in the first.
“We didn’t really challenge them very well,” Nashville forward Mike Fisher said. “It wasn’t our A-game no question. They run and gun a little bit more and they bury them when they can like they did tonight.”
Chicago had the advantage of a couple days off after a 6-2 win at Phoenix on Thursday night, and the Blackhawks had plenty of fans on hand as they took the first of five games between these Central Division rivals this shortened season.
They got some nice payback after going 2-4-0 against Nashville in losing last season’s series for the first time since 2006-07. The Predators outscored Chicago 25-16 last season and had won four of the previous six games between these teams in Nashville.
The rest showed in the second as the Blackhawks almost camped out in front of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
Rinne had won four straight starts and hadn’t allowed an even-strength goal since Jan. 28. But that streak ended at 316 minutes, 40 seconds when Nashville defenceman Roman Josi kicked the puck, trying to clear it, right to Kruger near the high slot. Kruger snapped a shot over Rinne’s stick for his second goal of the season at 6:14.
Trotz credited a “comedy of errors” by the Predators on helping Chicago score that goal with three turnovers and then Josi kicking it to Kruger.
“I mean just put a tent over that circus,” Trotz said. “You make five, six mistakes like that, it’s going to end up in your net. It wasn’t a classic goal or anything.”
Chicago also got a bit of luck as Keith’s shot from the right circle deflected off Toews’ chest in front of Rinne and went up and over the Nashville goalie into the net at 7:20 for a 2-0 lead. It was Toews’ sixth goal of the season and the 150th of his career.
The Blackhawks wound up with 27 shots, including Kane’s ninth goal this season. He scored at 4:27 of the third after skating up the left boards and shooting at the net, sneaking the puck past Rinne for the 3-0 lead and yet another Chicago win.
Notes: The Blackhawks will play their third home game Tuesday night when they host Anaheim at the United Center to start a seven-game homestand. … These teams won’t play again until April 1 for the first of four games in 19 days. … Chicago went 18-18-5 on the road last season. … Chicago came in with a league-best 33 goals on the road. … Kane came in with 17 points in nine road games, best in the NHL. He now has eight goals and 10 assists.