GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Chicago Blackhawks were probably down to a quarter tank on Saturday night, with the first six games of the road trip in but finishing with a back-to-back.
They played like a team refreshed from a week-long respite.
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Niklas Hjalmarsson got the eventual game-winner in the first period and Antti Raanta collected his second victory in as many starts as the Blackhawks beat the Phoenix Coyotes 5-2 at Jobing.com Arena. The Blackhawks wrapped up their Circus Trip with an impressive 6-1-0 record, their only blemish coming in Colorado.
The Blackhawks could see the road trip’s end in sight, and accordingly they left it all out there. Their start was tremendous, as they ripped the Coyotes for three goals in the first 11 minutes, 4 seconds of the game. Hjalmarsson capped it with his third of the season, which staked the Blackhawks to a 3-0 lead at the time.
“Great start. It could’ve been our best period to start a game all year,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I loved the energy, loved the pace. We certainly had the whole flow in the second period and we were great third as well.”
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Even Patrick Kane, who finished with a 5-on-3 power-play goal and an assist, was surprised at the team’s start.
“Coming into Phoenix on a back to back, a 6 o’ clock game, I think we were expecting a different start,” he said. “It was nice to get the power plays off the bat and get one there, we got a break on the second and took off from there. I think everyone was surprised with how well we were skating, how good we felt out there.”
Duncan Keith added two more assists, and has at least one in seven consecutive games. Marian Hossa had an empty-net goal and an assist. Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig also scored for the Blackhawks.
On the other side, Raanta was once again cool and collected in the Blackhawks’ net. The 24-year-old Finn stopped 31-of-33 and says he feels better with every opportunity.
“Of course you want to always win the games and want to play as good as possible and help the team. Today the team was helping me a lot, blocking shots and playing great,” he said. “Phoenix didn’t have so many chances in the third, so thanks to the team, too.”
The Blackhawks had their sketchiest moments in the second period, when the Coyotes started gaining momentum and the Blackhawks took too many penalties. Rob Klinkhammer, formerly of the Blackhawks’ system, scored his fifth of the season and Martin Hanzal scored a power-play goal to cut Chicago’s lead to 3-2.
But the Blackhawks’ third period was much like their first, with plenty of zone time and scoring opportunities. Bollig converted one of them, his third of the season, to give the Blackhawks breathing room and a 4-2 edge. He and third liners Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, who got the primary and secondary assists on that goal, continued their strong road trip.
“We feel great,” Bollig said. “The more games we play together, the more comfortable we are with each other. You can feel safer knowing (your linemate) is going to be where you think he is and you can play your game without fear that you’ll turn it over or have a weak spot on the ice.”
The Blackhawks didn’t show many weak spots through this Circus Trip. They saved the best for last. Perhaps they just went for it energy-wise, knowing they were heading home after tonight’s game. Perhaps they’re just hitting their stride. Either way, the Blackhawks are rolling and looking very much like they did last season.
Quenneville said the team wanted to push for that final victory of the road trip to truly deem it a success. That, they did.
“It’s certainly been a positive start to the season and it was a great road trip,” Quenneville said. “We’re very happy in all aspects of our team game. We can touch on everything. Probably the only sore spot is the PK, and that’s getting better. Other than that, we’re very happy.”