Thursday, January 30, 2014
Hawks' 'best game next game' strategy pays
By Monte Stewart Special to ESPNChicago.com
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Chicago Blackhawks aced a character test Wednesday night in a city that has never been kind to them.
The Hawks also made ending their longest losing streak of the season -- a four-game skid -- look easy as they overcame a two-goal deficit to thump the struggling Vancouver Canucks 5-2.
Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad celebrates his second-period score Wednesday at Rogers Arena.
“The confidence is always there,” said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the second period. “We know what we are capable of as a team. Tonight we found a way to overcome some of those tough moments we’ve had of late.”
The tough moments continued early in Wednesday’s action. In fact, they came 16 seconds into the game, when Chris Higgins gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead.
The Blackhawks responded by controlling most of the first period, despite trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes and 2-0 early in the second period. They clinched the win with four unanswered goals in the second and Brandon Saad’s second goal of the game -- an empty-netter -- late in the third.
“Getting scored on the first shift is never a good feeling, but we knew that wasn’t going to be the difference,” Toews said. “We had a great momentum swing in the second, scoring four goals like that. It was huge for us.
“The biggest thing we’ve had trouble with lately is not having those moments when we are playing well and then not be able to hang onto leads and play the right way late in games. We made an effort to change that tonight.”
In the process, the Hawks propelled coach Joel Quenneville into third place all time in NHL wins.
“It means a lot to the players,” goaltender Corey Crawford said of Quenneville’s milestone. “He’s a good leader for us. He understands the game and he understands everything that goes around us.
“He’s just a guy that really gets it all and knows how to control his team -- and gets the best out of us.”
The Blackhawks also avoided a tailspin with a long Olympic break approaching -- for players other than the 10 Blackhawks scheduled to head to Sochi -- and made discussion of a possible Stanley Cup repeat more plausible.
By gaining their second win in three meetings with the Canucks this season, the Blackhawks also showed they can play with discipline at critical times.
In recent years, these teams have waged an often bitter and emotional rivalry that has seen them eliminate each other from the playoffs.
But on this night, the Blackhawks took only four minor penalties. Just one -- a roughing penalty on Andrew Shaw for a tussle with Ryan Kesler late in the third period with the outcome not in doubt -- was for extracurricular shenanigans. Kesler received the same penalty.
Instead, it was a familiar story as the Blackhawks received steady goaltending from Crawford, who finished with 29 saves on 31 shots following his early shortcomings.
“I was able to shake it off, but not right away, and just get into the game,” Crawford said. “When that happens sometimes there’s nothing I can do about it right away. I’ve just got to focus on the next shot and stop the next one.”
“Losing streak? I didn’t even know that,” said Crawford. “We take it game by game, and we play as if we should win every game. And we have the confidence to win every game.
“Whatever happened, we make sure we work hard and have the best game next game.”