CHICAGO -- For days during their recent nine-game losing streak, the Chicago Blackhawks said they thought they would be a better team once they came out of it. It was hard to imagine, considering the mess they were in, but maybe those words are coming to fruition after their third straight victory, 3-1 over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.
Their first home game in three weeks may have been the most important of the season to date, simply because of how they won.
“It was good in a lot of ways,” Duncan Keith said. “We played a patient game and stuck with it. Didn’t panic and grinded it out for a win. We learned a lot there in the losing streak and we brought some of those lessons we learned into tonight’s game.”
Keith had a goal and an assist in a third-period three-goal outburst, erasing a 1-0 deficit. The payoff from lessons learned was a rare low-scoring win. Take away Marian Hossa's empty-net tally with seconds remaining and it was just the second Hawks win in which they scored two goals or less all season. And their first since late November.
“There were games at the beginning of the year where it was one goal late in the third, but this one was important,” Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford said of the tight win. “We’re down one most of the game and we’re not trying to do too much. We’re playing the right way, waiting for our chances … eventually it happened for us.”
The Hawks played the right way, even after getting down, while Crawford kept them in it until the rest of the team raised the work ethic.
The Blues were 25-1-1 when leading after two periods coming into the game, but this was no fluke win. The Hawks earned it, and it has far more meaning than just two points in the standings. They proved they could win a tight one and coach Joel Quenneville took notice.
“[That’s] the way we’re thinking after the game as a staff and a team,” he said. “We did the things that make you a better team throughout the game. We’re trending where our team game is improving.”
The Hawks were outworked and outplayed in the first period. They got cute with the puck and the Blues gobbled them up as the Hawks entered the offensive zone. The Hawks went 15 minutes without a shot.
“It was an early game,” Dave Bolland said. “I think a lot of us, coming out of a game yesterday [Saturday] and to 11:30 a.m. game today, just waking up and coming to the rink was a little different for the guys. This morning, it was: You wake up, get your breakfast and get your skates on and you go to work.”
Bolland is making excuses for their early play instead of taking credit for a hard-working final 40 minutes. The game was early for both teams. The Hawks simply thought it would be easier than it was. Once they realized what was in store for them, they put their hard hats on and went to work.
“That’s one thing, the Blues don’t give up much, and you’ve got to stay with it. A lot of times, it’s not a high-quality chance game,” Quenneville said. “You’ve got to get through traffic. You’ve got to score ugly goals. We got a couple breaks in that area today. I thought the guys hung with it.”
And they proved something to themselves and the hockey world: They can win even when they don’t score in bunches. It took until Game 60 on Sunday to make that clear.