- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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In what could’ve been billed as an Original "stinks" matchup, Chicago ended its three-game losing streak with a 5-4 win over Toronto on Wednesday night. The Leafs lost their sixth straight and are mired in a 1-9-1 slump.
Needless to say, Toronto coach Ron Wilson isn’t looking too good. He declined a pregame interview on Canadian TV. The Leafs haven’t made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season and don’t look to be breaking that streak this season.
Sixth place never felt so good.
“Yeah, yeah, you know how it is in Toronto, or anywhere in Canada, but especially Toronto,” Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said. “We don’t have to worry about that. We’re worried about ourselves in here.”
The Blackhawks trailed 3-2 after the first period and were only that close thanks to a Marcus Kruger goal with 30 seconds left. Before that score, coach Joel Quenneville had already decided to pull goaltender Corey Crawford. It’s the second straight start he’s been replaced by Ray Emery.
“It was 3-1 at the time. I figured we’d get to the end of the period here and we’ll and look at making a change,” Quenneville said. “Still, 3-2, we went with it, and sometimes it works.”
Emery stopped his first 23 shots before a goal by Mike Brown with four seconds left. Crawford gave up three goals on 10 shots.
"It was a tough first for us," Emery said. "As a guy coming off the bench, you just want to play solid and give the guys a chance in a tight game. We played really well defensively in the second and third periods."
Quenneville also split up Brent Seabrook and trade-deadline acquisition Johnny Oduya. Those two were on the ice for all three first-period goals, but after that Oduya was paired up with Nick Leddy, while Seabrook went with Duncan Keith.
Quenneville’s moves worked because his star players stepped up in the second period, especially his top two scorers. Kane had a goal and an assist on Marian Hossa’s go-ahead score. Kane said Kruger's goal got them going.
“I think it was a huge goal to get us to 3-2,” Kane said. “But we knew we could play better than that. Once we came out in the second and started flying, making some plays, using our speed, different things like that, that’s when were at our best. You can say it a bunch of times about puck possession, puck possession, but you saw it in the second period. We have the puck, we make plays and we control the game ourselves.”
It was a good time to step up. Jonathan Toews missed his fifth-straight game with what's described as an upper body injury.
“Our top guys have got to be not just our best players, but they have to lead us through this stretch here,” Quenneville said. “(Toews) is a big key to our team, but everybody goes through key injuries at critical times in the season. This is a time when we need them, and we liked what we saw.”
A “must-win” game is just a cliche in late February, but there was some immediacy, given the Blackhawks’ recent play and a three-game road trip -- to Ottawa, Detroit and St. Louis -- coming up.
“Yeah I think so,” Emery said. “You can see the light at the end of the tunnel where the playoffs are concerned and you can see how tight it is. We can’t afford to let anything pass us by. They’re in a tough spot and so are we. We’re at home, they played last night and we expected to win that game.”
The skidding Blackhawks hosted Toronto at the right time.