By Rick Gethin
On a night when the Columbus Blue Jackets were fighting to make just their second playoff appearance in franchise history, the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks were looking to move to within one point of the second-place Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division. Ben Smith helped his team get that much closer to wresting home ice from the Avs, scoring the game-winner with fewer than four seconds left.
“It’s certainly the objective,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve had a couple of games here where it looked like we were going to close the gap, and we haven’t. So, we’ll keep doing what we have to do to close it to less than two (points).”
They did just that against their old Central Division opponent in Columbus. The Blue Jackets came out skating hard, jumping on any opportunity to get into the Blackhawks zone and put pucks on Raanta. Though it took Chicago a bit of time to get their legs moving, eventually they did just that.
They’ve managed to overcome the losses of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and win two games in a row. Quenneville talked about simplifying their game, and the boys did just that.
“I think if you play the right way, you give yourself a chance (to win),” he said. “I think keeping it simple is something that we stressed a lot. And we got ourselves up to speed here tonight. If you have balance, keep yourself mentally aware of what you need to do and play the team system well, everybody compliments each other.
“The last two wins here are very exciting from where we were just a few days ago.”
A three-game losing streak is never enjoyable. But winning two games in a row, in a shootout and with seconds to go on the clock, respectively, is a tonic for the masses. Trepidation might have started to creep in had the losing streak extended to four games.
At this point of the season, with so few games to go, Quenneville knows he doesn’t have to say much to get this club motivated.
“No. They could have said something in there,” he said. “We just talked about, ‘Hey boys, it’s a playoff pace, let’s go.’
“We were fortunate to come out of the first period 1-1. But I thought we played the right way the last 40.”
They did play the right way by getting their legs moving and moving the puck in deep. Their passing remained crisp, and they were shooting puck after puck at Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, especially in the second stanza.
Looking ahead to the game on Sunday versus the St. Louis Blues, Quenneville was succinct with his answer to what they'll try to do for that game.
“Try to win,” he said with force.
Don’t you go a-changin’, Joel. It's that time of year again.