Coach Joel Quenneville was feeling a lot more confident about the Blackhawks’ chances of catching the Blues in the Central Division before watching St. Louis earn two more points before his team even took the ice Sunday.
“Better before (that) game started, obviously,” Quenneville said before puck drop against the Predators.
The confidence meter dropped even lower when the Hawks lost a game they couldn’t afford as they fell 2-0 in front of 21,727 at the United Center.
“We’ll look at the short term and look ahead to Tuesday’s game (against the Stars) and we’ll see how we chip away and see if that works,” Quenneville said after the Hawks saw their two-game winning streak and run of four contests with at least one point snapped.
If the Hawks come up short in the Central race when the dust settles on the regular season, they will look back at three losses to the last-place Predators this season — two of them in the last 10 days. The Hawks trail the Blues by six points with 10 games remaining, and St. Louis has a game in hand.
“We know points are at stake and we don’t want to keep giving (away) those points,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “For whatever reason, we’ve had trouble against (the Predators). I can’t pinpoint what it is.”
A good place to look Sunday was in the Predators’ goal as Pekka Rinne stopped all 29 shots the Hawks sent his way for his first shutout of the season and 31st of his career.
“We seem to match up against them pretty well,” Rinne said. “They have a lot of individuals who can change the momentum and the game, but that team always seems to get the best out of us.”
Added Keith: “I don’t think they outplayed us. We felt like we had the puck more than them but it’s kind of the game they play. Their goaltender is a big part of their team and we didn’t find a way to get any behind him.”
Mike Fisher and Gabriel Bourque scored for the Preds and Rinne did the rest as he backstopped a penalty kill that stymied the Hawks on all four chances.
“We had some parts of the game where we played pretty well,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We just again couldn’t convert on the power play and couldn’t get any of those second chances we were looking for. It’s frustrating not to be able to find the offense.”
Complicating matters for the Hawks in the Central race is St. Louis has a four-game advantage in the first tiebreaker — regulation and overtime wins — over the Hawks, so the defending Stanley Cup champions will actually need to pass the Blues.
“It’s about how we play and focusing on playing well enough to get two points every single game,” Toews said. “If we do that, then the standings will take care of (themselves). We can’t control what’s going on in their games or what’s going on elsewhere in the standings. We’ll just worry about ourselves.”