It only took 4 minutes to get a 3 goal lead, and only another 5 to make it 4. Essentially, 5 minutes of explosive hockey broke the Chicago Blackhawks 9 game winless streak. Not a perfect win, but a big win nonetheless and it came against the best team in the NHL in a building that the Hawks have not won in for quite some time.
Oh man, is it telling that a 4 goal lead was still not enough to make me feel easy? This was a very weird game by many measures, and I really have a hard time gaining any great insights from the match besides this: Toews, Hossa, and Sharp all scored goals (Kane had 2 assists), and it took the big names to break the terrible pattern that was gaining strength with every loss. Not very shocking, as it has been stated many, many times that the Hawks win or lose by these names.
Maybe the largest concern coming in was the choice to start Crawford, and boy did he look shaky for the majority of the game. That concern overweighed the surprising sight of John Scott on the ice. No matter, he only played 2 minutes of hockey, and the stars came to play tonight. More on Crow in a bit.
Did the choice by New York to give their star goaltender a rest play largely into this game? Would Lundqvist had made that save against Toews on the penalty shot that opened up the game? Most likely not, because Toews always gets his 5-hole. The absence of Lundqvist was still a large factor and just maybe the difference.
One of the main reasons why I have a hard time responding to this game, besides to feel giddy over being reminded about the feeling of watching the Hawks win, is the bountiful penalties against the Hawks. 7 penalties given to the Hawks and the Rangers went 0-7 with the man advantage. By all means, this should have spelled disaster, but it didn't. The Hawks came out really strong, sparked by a driven determination to win, and a commitment to playing smarter; and this along with an obvious push by the hockey gods to bring back balance to the force helped push the Hawks into a very early lead. So many things seemed off about the game, but it went in our favor.
The 2nd period was won by the Rangers, and so was the 3rd. Where the defensive zone play was much more cohesive in the first, it started reverting back to old ways by the 2nd, and bad habits were clearly back in the 3rd. A late goal by New York woke the Hawks back up, and they again tightened up enough to kill off the final 5 minutes for a 4-2 win.
Back to Crawford. One of the main reasons why a 4 goal lead gave me no piece of mind was the way Crawford was moving around in the net. Doing a much better job of staying in his net and squared off, although the Rangers never really tested him too hard, Crawford also seemed to be having a hard time following the puck visually. I have serious doubts about continued success with him this year, but as the game went on, Crow looked better. By the end, he had put together a few impressive saves, and I wondered if he could be a consistent, solid goaltender again.
Needless to say, giving Toews a penalty shot extremely early in the game is a good way to start the game. Leddy followed shortly with a goal from the point as big John Scott provided the screen. This play was set-up by Hossa. Moments later, the Hawks made good use of their stretch pass that has also been the cause for much criticism as Toews sent Sharp in on a breakaway via that pass and Sharpie made it count. 5 minutes later, Kaner hit Hossa with a very similar pass and Hossa also put his opportunity away. Could it be that the slower moving Eastern Conference was the element that allows for such passes to pay off? That, and a goaltender who hasn't played in a while.
A few points:
- John Scotts penalty in the 1st that ended up allowing the Rangers a 4 minute power-play could have been the boost that New York needed to get back in and this penalty was about as dumb as they come.
- Yes, some of the calls against the Hawks were obviously in an attempt to allow the Rangers back into this one, but the PK answered the call anyway. A slight change in positioning and style, they still allow too many opportunities to shoot, but it worked out tonight and is a much needed boost to the Hawks ability to kill penalties. It was a very simple approach which I can see the reasoning, but I imagine a more creative power-play causing too much havoc to permit its continuation. Eventually, they need to be more aggressive.
- I don't think anyone is going to call this the Rangers best effort of the year. In fact, I think the Hawks have been lucky enough to face 2 teams in a row who did not bring nearly their best. But, a win is a win, especially tonight.
- The Hawks also missed on their own 2-man advantage. Where the PK came through, their power-play continues to fail, although I must admit that it looked better.
- The Hawks most definitely dodged a few bullets. One such bullet was in the form of an empty net as Crawford had little idea where the puck was. It seemed as though the Rangers established pressure on the Hawks only a few times, but could have done enough damage in those short efforts. Cheers to the Hawks for keeping those moments fewer and farther between.
- Stalberg had at least 3 self made giant scoring chances which went without any conversion. On one, he ended up with an unfairly assessed penalty, and on another he set Bolland up for the 5th goal of the night, but Bolland could not find his hole as Martin Biron had found his mark by the 3rd period. Stalberg is such a wild card moving forward in his career. If he figures out how to use his hands more effectively, he is a league leader in goal scoring.
- Again, I like what I see out of Lepisto and Olsen. It makes me wonder again, if Olesz isn't worth a better look? Is it the pieces, or the way the pieces are being used? BTW, Bickell continues to look decent.
- Do we see a completely different game if the captain doesn't put that early opportunity away?
The Hawks did fall back into bad habits late in the game, and this worries me. The win is huge, and I hope it serves to ease the Hawks nerves, but I have to wait and see how the next 3 games play out before making any statements about their future. The Yotes and Kings play each other tonight which only made this 2 points all the more necessary. And boy were those 2 points hard to reach. Let this game stand as another example as to how much this teams "core" performers play into the success of this team. Smarter and more positioned play helps, but the ownership is ultimately on the core regardless of the coaching choices being made.