Jonathan Toews had had enough.
Maybe it was their history from their Feb. 10, 2012 game in San Jose, when Sharks captain Joe Thornton hit the Blackhawks captain a few times in the head, getting one last shot in after an official steped between them. Maybe it was just Toews’ built-in competitiveness.
Either way, Toews dropped them against the Sharks’ hulking captain. And sparked his team.
Marcus Kruger scored the game-winner and Andrew Shaw added a power-play goal as the Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 on Friday night. The Blackhawks improve to 11-0-3 overall and retain first place in the Western Conference (25 points), four points ahead of second-place Anaheim.
Fights, skirmishes, scuffles all have a habit of lighting the fire under teams. But for Toews to start one was surprising. Still, the two have some history, and Toews said he just had to do something.
“The last few games, including last season, there’s always some stuff going on, be it after the whistles or during the play. I guess it just comes down to players trying to get under your skin and test you a little bit,” Toews said. “I figured at some point I had to stand up for myself. It came down to that, I guess.”
Toews boarded Thornton, the original penalty. But the two ended up along the boards together, with Toews continuing to push Thornton. Then they dropped the gloves and it was on. On top of the fighting each got, Toews was also assessed two minutes each for boarding and unsportsmanlike conduct.
Patrick Sharp said it was worth the ensuing four-minute power play the Blackhawks had to try and erase.
“I said to guys in the room: any chance you get to see Johnny get punched in the face a few times, we’ll gladly kill that off,” Sharp said with a laugh. “That doesn’t happen often, but thought we responded well afterward. (Duncan Keith) did a similar thing out there. Johnny, give him credit: he hung in there and fought a much bigger player and did pretty well.”
Thornton was surprised at the fight request.
“Johnny just asked me to fight, and I was kind of shocked. I said sure,” Thornton told Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area. “That’s how it went. He just hit me from behind; it wasn’t anything serious. He just asked me to fight, and I obliged.”
The Blackhawks killed off the nearly four minutes’ worth of Sharks power play – San Jose nixed the rest with their own penalty. Soon after, Dave Bolland tallied a 4-on-4 goal, scoring off his own rebound, to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 advantage.
The rebound fun would continue. Kruger’s first shot took a funny hop over Annti Niemi’s glove, hit the post and bounced back to Kruger, who punched it in. Shaw, too, was there off a rebound, batting it in for his power-play goal.
“We talked about getting pucks to the net and second opportunities. You get rewarded as you go along,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Krugs got a fortunate bounce but he still went to the net to follow the play and got rewarded. We’ve had some good opportunities off shots.”
The Blackhawks were all business against San Jose on Friday night, from their improved start to their captain’s fisticuffs to their penchant for pouncing on rebounds. The Blackhawks are still unblemished in the regulation-loss column as they inch closer to equaling the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks’ start.
“Everything was good tonight. The PK was huge with the big four-minute penalty kill and the big goal by Bolley. It just set the tone,” Toews said. “We found ways to play well. The last game we couldn’t close out that one-goal lead we had. Tonight we were determined to finish the job.”