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Nashville Predators right wing Ryan Hartman (38) goes for the puck in front of Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Cam Ward (30) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks) ORG XMIT: CXA116

Blackhawks beat Predators 2-1 as Cam Ward shines in Corey Crawford’s place

SHARE Blackhawks beat Predators 2-1 as Cam Ward shines in Corey Crawford’s place
SHARE Blackhawks beat Predators 2-1 as Cam Ward shines in Corey Crawford’s place

Every piece of Corey Crawford’s gear was set up perfectly in his locker before Tuesday’s home game against Nashville, likely to go as untouched as a museum exhibit for a while as the Blackhawks move on without him.

Veteran backup Cam Ward gave them a major boost as he stepped in Tuesday with his best game of the year. He was exactly what the Hawks needed after losing one of their stars, and they beat Nashville 2-1 at the United Center.

“I felt confident, but I think that confidence grows with the team and the way that they were playing in front of me,” Ward said. “You see guys battling like they were tonight and you don’t want to let your teammates down.”

He stopped 30 of 31 shots, including some rockets near the end, for a season-high .968 save percentage.

It was big for the Hawks as they desperately hope to make any kind of run this season, but bigger for Ward. When Crawford went down with a concussion early in Sunday’s game against the Sharks, Ward came in and allowed five goals on 35 shots in a 7-3 loss.

It was an ominous start to what could be an extended absence for Crawford, who is out until at least Dec. 27.

“If I’m going to do that, then I need to respond and do my thing on the ice,” Ward said.

Done and done.

He shut down 10 shots to open the game before Predators winger Kevin Fiala got him in the final minute of the first period. Fiala fired from the right faceoff circle and whistled it stick-side over Ward’s right shoulder.

It was one scuff on an otherwise sparkling performance, and the Hawks made it count thanks to goals by Gustav Forsling and Erik Gustafsson.

Ward was steaming about the San Jose game, but didn’t show it leading up to Nashville. Throughout the day, he had the same steady, seen-it-all presence the Hawks have seen throughout the year.

“He’s predictable,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “You know what you get every day. That’s why he’s won a cup and has had a nice career.”

The defense did its part, too.

The Hawks came in allowing the fourth-most shots on goal per game in the NHL and let their goalies get pelted with 42 or more in the previous three games. They held Nashville to seven in the second period, when Gustafsson and Forlsing scored, and aesthetically it was this team’s best stretch in a long time.

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“For the most part, we were committed to playing a simple game when it was necessary,” Colliton said. “We want to make as many plays as we can. When you have time and options, let’s be clean.

“When it’s not there … we want to play in their half of the ice, get a forecheck going, force them to make plays under pressure and then we have a chance to control things more. That’s where we have to get as a team and long term will help us win.”

The Hawks’ goalie situation will be tested further as they head into a back-to-back at Dallas and Colorado starting Thursday. That might prompt Colliton to give Collin Delia his first opportunity of the season.

He’s an unknown at this point, but has come a long way over the past year or so. He made two starts for the Hawks late last season and allowed seven goals on 63 shots, then went into this year splitting time with Anton Forsberg on the Hawks’ top minor league affiliate in Rockford.

He had a .933 save percentage and a 2.34 goals-against average in 17 games.

“He’s kind of picked up where he’s left off down in Rockford,” Colliton said. “Excited to get him here, of course. The circumstances are less than ideal, but a lot of times that’s when guys break through.”

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