Thursday, April 3, 2014
Hawks keep it simple to get back on track
By Scott Powers
CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was already dealing with a lot when he received some more bad news 20 minutes before his squad was to play the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.
Quenneville discovered that, in addition to being without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane due to injuries, he would also be missing one of his star defensemen. Johnny Oduya didn’t feel right after participating in the team’s warm-ups and wouldn’t be able to go for the game.
The Blackhawks, without three key players, were about to battle a team still fighting for a playoff spot. Throw in the fact that Chicago was on a three-game losing streak and hadn’t played well in recent weeks, and Quenneville knew there was only one way his team would win Thursday.
Ben Smith celebrates his second-period goal, which pulled the Hawks into a 1-1 tie.
“We’re stressing making sure simplicity is at a priority level right now,” Quenneville said. “That’s something we might say a little bit more now than we normally do. We encourage these guys to play well offensively, but we want to make sure -- trying to manufacture [offense] leads to trouble sometimes and just safety is the right way to approach it.”
The Blackhawks minimized their risks. Defensemen didn’t work off script, playing a more physical game. They didn’t try too much of the fancy variety on offense and looked to put pucks and players at the net. And in the end, it wasn’t pretty, but they ground out a much-needed 3-2 shootout victory over the Wild.
“I thought tonight was a big win,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We got a lot of good players out of the lineup. A lot of different guys stepped up. David Rundblad steps in with Johnny Oduya out and played some key minutes. Other guys, [Bryan Bickell] comes back in the lineup and scores a big goal. That’s what we’re going to need going forward.”
Bickell and Ben Smith provided the offense Thursday. They’re two of the Blackhawks more willing to camp out in front of an opponent’s net and fight for the dirty goals. Both were rewarded for that approach against Minnesota.
Smith converted first, less than three minutes into the second period. The play began when Nick Leddy put a shot on net. After the initial save, Brandon Saad took a whack at the puck, and his shot was saved. Smith was waiting there for another rebound, and knocked it past Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to tie the game at 1-1.
Bickell came through with his goal in the third period. Jeremy Morin's shot from the left circle sparked the play, and Bickell was there for the rebound. His first attempt was blocked, but he flipped his second attempt over Bryzgalov with a backhanded shot.
“If that’s what it takes to win, I think we’re happy to play that way,” Smith said. “We want to do whatever it takes to get points. They’re hard to come by this time of year.”
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford gave up a game-tying goal on a shot he normally saves with 1 minute, 54 seconds left in the third period, but he bounced back to shut the door the rest of the way. He stopped all three of the Wild’s shootout opportunities. The Blackhawks hadn’t won an overtime/shootout game since Jan. 19.
All in all, the Blackhawks were simply happy to be back on the winning track.
“The three-game losing streak is not something we want to have going into the playoffs,” Bickell said. “These next five games we need to have that confidence and momentum and kind of have that chip on our shoulder that we can play good hockey. I know we’re missing a lot of pieces right now. When they come in, we’re clicking on all cylinders.”