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Predators blank Blackhawks behind Rinne's 29 saves

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Nashville Predators did what they do best Sunday at United Center.

They delivered another gut-wrenching loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, who were shut out 2-0 by Nashville thanks to a dominant 29 saves by goaltender Pekka Rinne. Chicago failed to keep pace with the St. Louis Blues in the race for first place in the Central Division.

It was the Predators' third win in four games this season against Chicago (41-16-15), which dropped to 10-12-3 against Central Division opponents, its worst record against any division in the NHL.

"They have a really good team, but we seem to match up against them pretty well," Rinne said after his first shutout of the season. "We have to play a defensive style of hockey against them. They have a lot of individuals who can change the momentum and change the game, but that team seems to get the best out of us."

The Blackhawks, who outshot the Predators 29-17, were missing two key players due to injury: right wing Patrick Kane (lower body) and left wing Bryan Bickell (upper body).

Rinne, a towering 6-foot-5, 204-pound Finnish goalie, looked like he did prior to hip surgery last spring that led to an infection that kept him out 51 games this season. He swallowed up most of the shots that were on target, played the puck well, and withstood a furious few minutes toward the end of the game to keep the Blackhawks scoreless.

Nashville finished 2-2-0 on a tough four-game road trip that tested Rinne with some atypical outings.

"Personally, I've struggled the last couple games on this road trip, and it's been tough for me, so it for sure feels good after tonight's win," Rinne said. "The guys played extremely hard. Against a top team like that, it's going to get the best out of you, and I think we showed that as a team tonight."

Mike Fisher and Gabriel Bourque scored for the Predators (31-31-10), who are still alive in the chase for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nashville did get some bad news when rookie defenseman Seth Jones couldn't play the second or third periods because of concussion-like symptoms.

Jones took a hit along the boards from Chicago forward Andrew Shaw 6:37 into the game and didn't return for the second. He logged 5:48 of ice time on eight shifts.

Corey Crawford made 15 saves for Chicago, which is six points behind St. Louis following the Blues' 1-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. The Blackhawks went 0-for-4 on the power play and have failed to score on nine man-advantage opportunities in the past two games without Kane.

"Obviously, we know points are at stake," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We want to keep getting those points and we left two on the table tonight, but for whatever reason we've had trouble against these guys. I can't pinpoint what it is. We've played good games the last little while and we've played good team games, so I don't know. It's tough when you don't score a goal to win the game."

Nashville took a 1-0 lead on Fisher's 18th goal, which he scored with 1:22 to go in the first by tipping a slap pass from Ryan Ellis past Crawford at the side of the crease. The goal negated a solid start by the Blackhawks, who were out for revenge following a 3-2 loss to the Predators on March 14 and led in shots 11-4 after 20 minutes.

"We had a good start and we had a couple of great looks at the net," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "[We] missed the net, missed the opportunities there, and they scored first. What happened after was exactly what happened [March 14]. They get the lead and they go into a check-fest and they check well."

The second period mirrored the first.

Aided by three power plays, the Blackhawks ran their advantage in shots to 20-11 after 40 minutes but trailed 2-0 thanks to Bourque's goal at 17:35. His seventh goal capped a 2-on-1 rush created when he took a short pass from rookie Calle Jarnkrok and headed up ice.

Jarnkrok, who got his second assist in as many NHL games, used a burst of speed to beat Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook in the neutral zone and charged toward the net. Bourque zipped a wrister from the left circle that sailed over Crawford's left shoulder into the right corner of the net, deflating the Blackhawks going into the locker room yet again.

"That was big," Bourque said of Jarnkrok's effort. "He gave me more space and made the goalie on edge. Crawford didn't know if I'd pass or not, so that was a really good job. He's fast and uses his speed."

Rinne took it from there, dazzling in the third period by stopping nine Chicago shots, including an intense goalmouth scramble with 50 seconds left. It was one of several times the Blackhawks skated away shaking their heads.

"It was a good bounce-back game for him," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "You saw tonight exactly what Pekka Rinne can do for you. I thought we spent a lot of time in our zone, but I thought we kept them to the outside for the most part. They didn't get those second and third looks that sometimes they can."

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