The Chicago Blackhawks are back. Or at least they’re back in the playoffs if they started after 61 games.
A 3-0 win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday thrust them into the top eight in the conference. It’s still a precarious hold on a playoff spot—they’re tied with several teams at 70 points -- but it’s a start.
“I don’t think we’re ever in a place where we should feel comfortable,” coach Joel Quenneville said on Comcast SportsNet after the game.
Maybe not, but if Corey Crawford continues to play the way he did on Thursday, the Hawks might move higher than a No. 7 or 8 seed.
“He’s been like this since Day 1 and he’s given our whole team a lot of confidence,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “Early on he made some big saves.”
How about five good stops before the Hawks had their first shot on goal, with 14:21 remaining in the opening period. He set the tone as he has so many times this season.
“Timely saves,” Quenneville said. “He was solid.”
The flurry of stops Crawford made at the end of the game, when Nashville pulled its goaltender with over two minutes to go, was just as impressive.
Just ask Joel Ward, whom he stopped at point blank. He made 31 saves in all.
But Quenneville was quick to point out the defenders in front of Crawford were just as good.
“I thought the whole D core played well, strong in our own end,” he said. “That was the big thing tonight, how solid we were defensively.”
Think back to early in the season, a leaky Marty Turco was in net and a Stanley Cup defense was underachieving, to say the least. Things have changed.
Led by Duncan Keith, the defense has had a resurgence.
Keith had a huge game against the Predators. He led the team with four shots and four blocks. And his plus-2 rating tied with several others as best for the night. In fact, he (plus-1) and Seabrook (plus-2) are now plus players for seemingly the first time all season.
Goaltending and defense. Sounds like a championship combination. Or at least one that should get them to the playoffs. They’re finally there now.
The Hawks had another bad night in the faceoff circle. They won just 41 percent of their draws. No Hawk was over 50 percent.
Marian Hossa had a busy night with the puck. He tied for the team lead with four shots but sent four more to the net. Two got blocked and two missed the net, but it’s a sign he’s willing to shoot more than previously. Hossa also had two blocks and stole puck for a back-breaking, breakaway goal in the third period.
Niklas Hjalmarsson left the game midway through the third period. There was no immediate word on his ailment.
Quenneville partially lost his voice in his first game back after missing four with an ulcer. After the game he said it felt like he was getting used to the first day of training camp or first game of the season.