When the Chicago Blackhawks have hit rough spots the past two seasons, they haven’t been mired in them for long. They regroup, reset and recharge, even on the second half of back-to-backs.
They did that once again on Sunday night.
Marian Hossa scored a short-handed goal as part of a three-goal first period, and Antti Raanta got the victory as the Blackhawks beat the Los Angeles Kings, 3-1, at the United Center.
The Blackhawks, coming off a shoddy 7-3 loss to Toronto on Saturday night, didn’t want to make the same mistakes against a Kings team that had won six in a row entering Sunday night’s game. They didn’t. The Blackhawks were strong off the start, tearing into a Kings team that hadn’t allowed a first-period goal in their last 18 games.
“It’s not always about the team we’re playing against; it’s more about how we’re preparing ourselves. We know we have to be prepared for what the other teams going to bring. We were more tonight, and knew we had to play a patient game,” said Jonathan Toews, who recorded two assists. “I think we were pretty sound defensively, and we didn’t really let up for the next 40 minutes.”
The Blackhawks are now 7-0-2 in the second half of back-to-backs this season.
“Great start,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought we played a real good game in all facets. We needed a game played the right way. The last four games the scores were lopsided either way. But getting off to a strong start, we were playing the right way, and scoring short-handed helps your club as you go along.”
Toews was the catalyst for the Blackhawks’ hot start, winning a penalty-kill puck battle and feeding to Hossa, who was open in front for the short-handed goal and 1-0 advantage. It was the first time the Kings gave up a first-period goal since Nov. 2, when they allowed two in the first 20 minutes to the Nashville Predators. Toews, whose left pinky has been bandaged the past few games, obviously hasn’t been bothered by it: He was also 10 for 13 in the faceoff circle Sunday.
“He set a tempo, basically. He out-battled them and made the play. I was alone in front of the net just tried to get it quick five-hole. He did all the work,” Hossa said. “Those little things give you momentum.”
The Blackhawks didn’t let up from there. Kris Versteeg, breaking on a 2-on-1 with Michal Handzus, scored his sixth of the season for a 2-0 lead. Then Patrick Sharp scored a power-play goal with 29 seconds remaining in the first.
Raanta did the rest, stopping 21-of-22 for the victory after being pulled to start the third period on Saturday.
“It’s always a little more obvious for a goaltender, and it’s easy to blame a goaltender for media and people watching. But we didn’t help our goalies at all last night,” Toews said. “Tonight we worked harder in front of him, and he showed the same resolve. It shows a lot that a young rookie goaltender could come back and play with confidence like he did tonight.”
Raanta said he shook off the Toronto game, much like the rest of his Blackhawks teammates did — “you want to play every game as good as you can, but sometimes you just have those nights. I don’t now if any goalie’s a robot,” he said. But Raanta admits he had visions of his first NHL shutout dancing in his head with about five minutes remaining in regulation.
“That was over quickly,” said Raanta, referring to Kings defenseman Alec Martinez’s goal with 3:54 remaining in the game. “We were talking that we needed to be ready to play straightaway because LA’s been so good in first periods. It’s nice to have that PK goal.”
The Blackhawks looked more like the Blackhawks on Sunday. You’re going to have those glitches, those bumps in the road and even those lopsided losses in an 82-game season. It’s about forgetting them, rebounding from them. The Blackhawks have honed their skills in that category a lot these past two seasons.
“It was a much better effort tonight,” Toews said. “It was nice to see we can rebound. It doesn’t take us long to get back to our good habits.”