Score Strip

Emery, Blackhawks shut out Predators

The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chicago entered Saturday's game with Nashville as the NHL leader in goals per game.

However, Predators coach Barry Trotz says the Blackhawks' true strength lies not in the scoring of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, but in an underrated defense that doesn't make many errors.

"Their defensemen play a tight gap defense and their team is hard to forecheck," Trotz said after Chicago blanked Nashville for the second time this year in Bridgestone Arena, a 1-0 decision. "They keep possession of the puck, and with Toews and Hossa they are hard to forecheck."

Ray Emery turned away 20 shots for the Blackhawks (28-5-4), who moved five points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot in the Western Conference and two points in front of the Pittsburgh Penguins for home ice throughout the playoffs.

A backup to Corey Crawford, Emery (13-1-0) came up with big saves when needed. His biggest might have been a glove stop on Nick Spaling's one-timer from the slot early in the second period.

"It's a good feeling to win a game like this," Emery said. "We're trying to get ready for the playoffs, and this is the type of game you'll have to win in the playoffs. Goals won't come as easily."

They barely came at all in this one, except for Bryan Bickell's seventh of the season at 5:31 of the first period. Teaming up with Michal Handzus on a 2-on-1 rush, Bickell benefited from Handzus' perfect setup, which left him with a wide-open net.

Bickell thought Predators goalkeeper Pekka Rinne might have been playing Handzus for a shot.

"He was leaning that way, but I thought as I came across the blue line that (Handzus) might pass it to me," Bickell said. "So I was trying to be ready for the pass, and he gave it to me."

A large contingent of Chicago fans, which turned one of the league's tougher visiting venues into a building with a neutral-ice, March Madness feel, erupted on what turned out to be the only score.

The Blackhawks created several more quality chances, but Rinne turned them all away, finishing the day with 29 saves and giving a desperate Nashville side a chance to at least force overtime and pick up a point.

But the Predators (15-16-8) couldn't pick up the equalizer and remained four points behind the St. Louis Blues for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. They have just nine games left, three fewer than the Blues.

Nashville pulled Rinne for most of the last two minutes and stormed the Chicago zone but failed to find the net's backside. Brandon Yip squeezed off an 8-foot wrist shot just before the final horn, but the puck skidded wide.

After time expired, defenseman Roman Josi slammed his stick to the ice in disgust. It was the Predators' fifth loss in six matches.

"I thought our compete level was good, and I wasn't disappointed in our effort at all," Trotz said. "We were just one puck away from getting to overtime."

Trotz's one regret came when Nashville squandered a four-minute power play at 7:58 of the third period after Daniel Carcillo high-sticked Shea Weber. The Predators couldn't even get a shot on net as the Blackhawks notched their 16th straight penalty kill, dating back to March 16.

"We did a great job with their power play," Emery said. "You could see them getting frustrated by the end. That's hats off to the fellows for working hard out there."

NOTES: Nashville reassigned defenseman Ryan Ellis to Milwaukee of the American Hockey League after calling him up under emergency conditions for Thursday night's 3-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Defenseman Victor Bartley returned to the lineup after missing the Columbus game due to illness. ... Chicago's Patrick Sharp missed his 13th straight game due to injury. ... Predators defenseman Hal Gill celebrated his 38th birthday Saturday, making him the oldest player in club history. Gill played in the 1,093rd game of his career. ... The Blackhawks' 4-3 shootout loss Thursday night against St. Louis was just their seventh defeat in 22 one-goal games this year.
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