- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - Roman Josi and Nashville’s dangerous defensemen did it all against the Chicago Blackhawks.

That is why Pekka Rinne believes the blue-liners are the biggest key for a strong finish to the Predators’ disappointing season.

Josi had three assists, and Ryan Ellis scored in the third period to lead the Predators to a 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks on Friday night.

“If we win or lose, usually it’s the D-men,” said Rinne, who made with 31 saves. “The talent we have on the back end, we’re pretty fortunate to have that kind of depth in the defense.”

Shea Weber also had his team-best 27th assist as Nashville’s defensemen combined for five points in the Predators’ third consecutive win. Weber also leads the team with 43 points, and Josi jumped into a tie with Patric Hornqvist for second on the team with 21 assists.

“That’s the strength really of our group, our D-men,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re all young and talented. We’re the youngest team in the league by three years on the blue line. The future is really bright for us there. Now we’ve got to work on trying to get those elite forwards like the Blackhawks have.”

It was the second straight loss for Chicago, which is struggling to keep up with the top contenders in the rugged Western Conference. The reigning Stanley Cup champions dropped to 10-8-7 in 2014.

Jonathan Toews and Peter Regin scored for the Blackhawks, and Corey Crawford made 26 saves in his 200th NHL game.

“We’re putting ourself in tough situations by not starting well and getting away from our team game,” Toews said. “Not much of an explanation, but we know we need better right now. We need to get out of this trend we’re in right now.”

Mike Fisher and Hornqvist also scored for Nashville, which has won two of three against Chicago this season.

Ellis‘ fourth goal of the season came right after the Predators killed a holding penalty on the defenseman that carried over into the third. He jumped out of the box, got a long pass from Josi and beat Crawford on a breakaway to make it 3-1 just 45 seconds into the period.

“I was just fortunate enough to time it right,” Ellis said. “Josi made a great play with a blocked shot then a tape-to-tape pass through the zone.”

Regin’s tip-in got the Blackhawks within one again at 11:28, but they were unable to tie it. Regin’s second goal with Chicago came after Toews sent a wide-open opportunity off the left post 4:40 into the third. Toews also had an open tip go wide with 36 seconds left.

“We knew they were going to make a push,” Josi said. “With that team they’ve got a lot of skill, but Peks was great again.”

Chicago controlled the action at the start, but Nashville began to pressure Crawford midway through the first.

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