Blackhawks have bigger fish to fry

Tribune staff reporter

The Blackhawks took care of the minnows Sunday night. But starting Monday and for the next four games, they'll be hunting nothing but big game.

The Hawks' 2-0 victory over the cellar-dwelling Nashville Predators before a crowd of 12,861 at the United Center was more a case of completing an errand before getting to the exciting stuff.

Home-and-home contests with the Detroit Red Wings, just six points ahead of the Hawks in the Central, followed by the Northwest-leading Vancouver Canucks and division rival St. Louis Blues await the Hawks.

"It was a tough game to play in," Hawks coach Brian Sutter said. "How do you not keep them from looking ahead? They're human beings."

Eric Daze returned after a three-game absence due to a sore back and scored the first goal of the game, Theo Fleury added the 450th of his career and Jocelyn Thibault recorded his league-leading sixth shutout.

Perhaps the most impressive stat of the night was the 2 hours 6 minutes it took to take care of business.

For Thibault, Sunday was a nice 28th birthday present. He stopped 17 shots.

"The guys played a great game in front of me," he said. "This game was very important."

A sleepy affair was given a little boost in the opening minute of the second period. Daze picked up a pass from Fleury in the neutral zone and bore down right wing. Nashville defenseman Cale Hulse had good position on Daze the entire way, but Daze was able to push the puck between the pads of Tomas Vokoun.

"I think I surprised [Vokoun] with my reach," Daze said.

It looked like that lone goal was going to have to stand up until Fleury got the puck alone in front of Vokoun midway through the third.

Fleury tried to stickhandle Vokoun down and ended up behind the net on the goal line. When Vokoun turned with Fleury and ended up facing him, Fleury banked a shot off his pads and in.

The goal brought back memories of days spent perfecting another art.

"When I played juniors in Moose Jaw, I made all my money playing pool," Fleury said. "That was a bank shot. I'm a little out of practice."

Fleury said he plans on being around a few more years to make a run at 500 goals. In the immediate future, Fleury and his teammates plan on making a run at first place and Detroit.

"That's our goal," Thibault said. "I think it's important to think about it.

"But we have to put it aside and play our game. [Sutter] has been bringing it up the last few weeks, that he wants us to aim for first place in our division. That's what he wants us to believe and we believe it."

The Hawks boarded their charter with last Sunday's 4-3 overtime loss to Detroit still fresh in their minds.

"They came in here and stole a point from us," Fleury said. "We'd like to go in there and pay them back."

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