Blackhawks tie franchise-best start with win over Blue Jackets
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Blackhawks said all the right things Saturday morning. With a home showdown against the Detroit Red Wings looming on Sunday, followed by the Ice Show trip — six cities in 13 days — they weren’t going to look past the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. They were focused, they said. Any team can win on any given night, they said. They’d be ready to play, they said.
Then they put two measly shots on goal in the first 15 minutes, made sloppy passes and generally looked disinterested.
“We weren’t playing our best hockey,” captain Jonathan Toews said.
Fortunately for the Hawks, goaltender Corey Crawford was. Again.
Crawford continued his strong start and willed his teammates to a 3-2 victory over the Blue Jackets, as the Hawks matched the best start in franchise history at 5-0 (1971-72). Crawford made just 24 saves in his fourth victory of the season, but the quality was more important than the quantity.
“He’s been solid every game,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He looks big, he looks in control. [When] games are on the line, he looks like he’s in charge.”
Quenneville said before the season that goaltenders would have the toughest time getting their timing back after the long lockout layoff, but Crawford has looked — and felt — sharp right out of the gate.
“I feel good, I feel focused,” he said. “The puck looks pretty big. But everyone’s making the effort to play defense, too.”
The effort was somewhat lacking early in the game, as the Hawks sputtered offensively while the Blue Jackets fired away on Crawford. Mark Letestu chipped the puck past a prone Crawford during a goalmouth scramble to give the hosts a 1-0 lead at the 7:35 mark, but Crawford stood tall the rest of the way, making several key stops until Artem Anisimov’s goal with 2:29 left in the game gave the Hawks a brief scare.
In between, it was all Hawks, who shook off the doldrums late in the first period when — who else? — Patrick Kane ignited the offense. His hard-driving rush to the net was stopped by’ Steve Mason, but Dave Bolland trailed the play and knocked in the rebound to tie it at 1-1 with 2:06 left in the first.
Bryan Bickell gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead midway through the second period when he deflected a booming shot from the point by Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The Blue Jackets appeared to tie it later in the period when Derick Brassard’s shot from the point got past Crawford, but the goal was immediately waved off. Nick Foligno, whose skate was in the crease, said he was told by a referee that he bumped Crawford and “didn’t give him time to reset.” The sellout crowd was irate.
“I saw the video,” Quenneville said. “The right call was made. His skate picked him from coming across the crease right before. Couldn’t get over.”
Fortunate to still be leading, Kane set up Toews for a 3-1 lead 6:35 into the third, giving Kane nine points in five games. On that goal, Marian Hossa created a turnover at the blue line, which Kane seized on and found Toews, who was lingering in front of the net.
“Dragging my feet a little bit and hoping for the best, I guess,” Toews said with a smile.
That about sums up the way the Hawks started the game, but after rallying to beat a red-hot goalie in Dallas on Thursday night, they were again happy with another character-testing win on the road.
“We’ll learn from the mistakes we made tonight and not be satisfied with the win,” Toews said.
“But we’ll have confidence that if we’re not on top of our game, we can find a way to win, like we did tonight.”