CHICAGO - It was only a matter of time before Chicago Blackhawks forward Jack Skille started hitting the back of the net.
Prior to the Hawks downing the rival Nashville Predators 4-1 on Wednesday night in front of 21,526 at the United Center, Skille had scored just once in 25 shots during the previous five games. Yet Skille was a model of efficiency against Nashville, one of the better defensive teams in the Western Conference.
He scored on both of his shots on goal to lead the Hawks (19-14-3) to their third straight win - all at home -- and seventh win in the last 10 games at the Madhouse on Madison.
"I think it was a matter of not getting frustrated," said Skille, who now has 6 goals and 14 points in his first full NHL season. "It's pretty easy to (get frustrated) sometimes, but it's more of a battle to make sure you're working hard every day on a consistent basis. Usually those shots will go in."
His first goal was a thing of beauty.
It capped a power play at 9:28 of the second period to give Chicago a 2-0 lead and opened some eyes with its placement. Dave Bolland found Skille with a pass on the right wing, and Skille placed a wrist shot perfectly into the upper right corner of the net on the short side to beat Nashville goalie Anders Lindback.
Prior to that goal, he'd scored just once in his previous 13 games -- including none on nine shots against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 17 and zero on seven shots six days earlier in San Jose. For his efforts against the Predators (17-10-6), Skille was named the No. 1 star of the game and his teammates gave him the Hawks' championship belt for the first time.
As Chicago coach Joel Quenneville sees it, the odds were simply in Skille's favor.
"When you keep getting chances and shots like [Skille] has, some are going to get through eventually," Quenneville said. "It was a terrific shot on the power-play, in a really tight spot."
Bolland and Bryan Bickell also scored for Chicago, while Sergei Kostitsyn had Nashville's lone goal. Duncan Keith logged another solid game along the blue line for the Hawks, contributing a pair of assists and finishing with a plus-2 rating.
Skille was looking for his first career hat trick during Bickell's goal, which was scored with just 2:32 left to complete the scoring. Bickell fired a hard wrister from the left circle that beat Lindback, but Skille was hoping for a loose puck.
"I asked him if he was shooting for a rebound there, so he could help me out," Skille said, smiling. "He was honest enough to say, 'No.'"
The way Bickell's been shooting, he might've scored on it even if he had tried for a rebound.
It was Bickell's sixth goal in the past eight games and fourth in the previous five. He now has 10 goals and 19 points in 32 games and is just one of the Hawks youngsters who've sparked this recent surge.
Another hot Chicago rookie is goalie Corey Crawford, who improved to 11-6-1. It was Crawford's third win in a row and his seventh start in the past eight games. He stopped 24 of 25 shots and has allowed just four goals on 83 shots faced during the past three games.
He also wasn't disappointed that he didn't get his first shutout of the season.
"We're winning games and that's all that matters," Crawford said. "I've got to make the saves when the game's on the line and it matters. Shutouts are nice once in awhile, but it doesn't matter. We got two points."
They were two big points that lifted the Hawks (41 points) over the Preds (40 points) into second place in the Central Division.
Lindback, meanwhile, took his second straight loss by giving up all four goals on 35 shots faced. The Predators came into the game with a stellar 8-1-1 record in their previous 10 games, but have now dropped two in a row while being outscored by a combined 10-2 margin.
They play the Ottawa Senators at home on Thursday before breaking for the Christmas holiday.
"I was disappointed in the pace we played with, (and) I was disappointed in the sloppiness in terms of managing the puck today," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "I don't think we executed at all. Other than the power-play goal (by Skille), all their goals were miscues and sloppy play by us. That was not one of our better performances this year."
It started with the first goal of the game scored by Bolland with 7:31 left in the first. Lindback's clearing attempt was intercepted by Fernando Pisani, who found Bolland wide open near the bottom of the left circle. Bolland deked Lindback to the ice, pulled the puck around the right pad in the blue paint and slid it into the net for the early 1-0 lead.
Bolland then assisted on Skille's first goal for a two-point game. Skille's second tally, scored at 9:14 of the third, made it 3-0. He zipped a shot from the top of the slot while using Preds defenseman Cody Franson as a screen and Lindback never saw it.
Kostitsyn ended Crawford's shutout bid not long after that, scoring his sixth at 11:13 of the third on a power play to make it 3-1.
|Dave Bolland (4) ASST: Fernando Pisani (5)|
1 - 0 CHI
|PPG - Jack Skille (5) ASST: Dave Bolland (8), Duncan Keith (20)|
2 - 0 CHI
|Jack Skille (6) ASST: Jake Dowell (10), Duncan Keith (21)|
3 - 0 CHI
|PPG - Sergei Kostitsyn (6) ASST: Martin Erat (12), Ryan Suter (13)|
3 - 1 CHI
|Bryan Bickell (10) ASST: Jassen Cullimore (6)|
4 - 1 CHI
|Ryan Suter Roughing against Jonathan Toews|
|Shane O'Brien Interference against Bryan Bickell|
|Tomas Kopecky Roughing against Joel Ward|
|Joel Ward Roughing against Tomas Kopecky|
|Dave Bolland Hooking against Cal O'Reilly|
|Jassen Cullimore Hooking against Sergei Kostitsyn|