ST. PAUL, Minn. – The defense was tighter. The goaltending was better. The scoring opportunities were ending up in the back of the opponent’s net.
This is Chicago Blackhawks hockey: crisp, workman-like with just the right amount of style. And it was back in full form on Monday night.
Brandon Saad had a goal and an assist, and Nick Leddy scored his first goal here as a pro as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 5-1 at Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks did an about face from their dismal performance against the Wild on Saturday night, when they looked discombobulated and frustrated. They wanted to get back to their typical hockey, and they did so in a big way.
“I liked the results of everybody tonight,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a business-like approach to the game and we got contributions across the board. We did some good things to put us in that spot.”
The Blackhawks’ work ethic was evident from the start in this one, from goaltending on out. Corey Crawford, who gave up five on Saturday night, was stellar in stopping 29 of 30.
“I was seeing the puck pretty well last game but I made a couple of mistakes that cost us,” Crawford said. “I just went over that with our goalie coach (Steve Weeks) and I did feel a lot better.”
It looked like a lot of Blackhawks felt better on Monday. Brandon Pirri, playing second-line center between Saad and Patrick Kane, finished with two assists. Kane had a goal and an assist and Patrick Sharp scored his second of the season. Sheldon Brookbank scored his first of the season.
The Blackhawks penalty kill also looked better, nixing all three of the Wild’s power plays. And the third period, which had been rough in so many previous games, was a close-out session instead of a nail-biting one.
“That’s a good team over there and I thought that was one of our best 60-minute efforts to this point,” Sharp said. “There are a lot of positives we can take out of this game. We’re capitalizing on our chances but above all we played good team defense. That’s how we have to play to be successful.”
Quenneville was especially happy to see that third period, during which Saad fed a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Kane for his goal, then scored one of his own to cap it.
“For sure, that was our best third period with the lead,” he said. “We had some offense off it, but we checked well and had a lot of puck time. Much better. That’s the first one in a long time where we had a nice lead.”
The Blackhawks left no doubt in this one, and left no one sitting on the edge of their seat. It was progress, it was tighter, it was more like Blackhawks hockey.
“I think that’s the way we want to play, that’s the way we can play and I think that just gave us confidence,” Leddy said. “We weren’t playing how we wanted to the past couple of games. This just felt good.”