By Jeff Hamilton
It wasn’t exactly the start the Blackhawks were looking for but at the end of the day all that mattered was the final score: a 5-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre Saturday afternoon.
Head coach Joel Quenneville hoped to have a good start to the game, noting extra importance since his guys were coming off a three-day absence from game action.
He didn't get what he wished for, as the Jets were the first to hit the board.
Andrew Shaw’s stick got a piece of a Tobias Enstrom shot from the point, fooling Corey Crawford to make it 1-0 for the home team. The Hawks regained their composure midway through the opening frame thanks to Niklas Hjalmarsson’s first goal of the year.
“They had a good start and I thought their quickness and their pressure was very noticeable,” said Quenneville after the game. “I thought we adapted and got our game going particularly in that second period. First period, we were lucky to be even at the end of it.”
The Hawks separated themselves for good in the second period, scoring three goals in less than five minutes.
Brandon Bollig’s second of the season was the eventual game winner, kicking things off for the Hawks, followed by goals from Patrick Sharp – be sure to check the highlight reel for this one - and Nick Leddy. Ben Smith made it 5-1 with his second of the year and the only goal in the final period.
The line of Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Smith combined for five points in the game, taking some of the pressure off Chicago’s top lines.
“We feel our secondary group can make plays as well, equally as well [as our top players],” said Quenneville. “We encourage the offensive side of our game but at the same time we’re all expected to defend the same way and I think we got balance throughout our line up.”
Speaking of defense: the Blackhawks blue-liners continued their dominance for the second straight game. In Tuesday’s match against Ottawa, four Blackhawks’ defender hit the score sheet, with another three chipping in Saturday.
“I think our D-men have just been playing amazing; blocking shots, clearing pucks, getting the puck and getting it to our forwards quickly,” opined Blackhawks’ net minder Corey Crawford. “That’s the way we play our game, five guys all over the ice.
“Everyone is helping out and everyone is available for the puck. Our forwards playing defense and our defense jumping in the play too, creating more options offensively.”
“We’re a strong team when we role four lines and everyone is contributing,” said captain Jonathan Toews. “That means defensive play but obviously contributing offensively as well and we saw that today.
“That’s what makes us a dangerous team when we have so many guys that can go out and score.”
One of those D-men unable to collect a point was Brent Seabrook, snapping his point streak at four games. The Blackhawks also snapped their streak of consecutive power-play goals at six games, as they were unable to convert on three chances with the man advantage.
As for Toews, he was held pointless in his return to Winnipeg, where he grew up watching the Jets. He finished with two shots and was plus-1 in 18:25 of ice time.
The Jets, despite having a number of quality scoring opportunities, held Patrick Kane in check. Kanes’s best chance came in the third period when he was awarded a penalty shot. With a nifty move to the backhand, Kane was able to beat Jets goalie Al Montoya – who was put in after starter Ondrej Pavelec allowed four goals on 14 shots – but was unable to beat the crossbar.
Crawford - who was shaken up in the second period following a collision with Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler - recorded 26 saves for his eighth win of the season. It marked the fifth game this year that Crawford has allowed just one goal in a game.
The win improves the Blackhawks to 9-2-3 and extends their win streak to three games. The Jets drop their third straight and fall to 5-8-2 on the year.