Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) celebrates with Jimmy Hayes after Hayes’ goal tied the score in the second period. Kruger scored the game-winner in the third. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: March 23, 2012 8:25AM
A handful of Detroit Red Wings fans wearing their team’s white road sweaters defiantly made their way down Madison Street toward the United Center, barking at everyone sporting an Indianhead.
“Nine-game losing streak,” they chanted.
The wounds from that streak are still fresh for the Blackhawks as the Wings and St. Louis Blues moved well ahead in the standings. But the Hawks are well on their way to recovery.
Jimmy Hayes had a goal and an assist and Marcus Kruger scored the game-winner as the rookies led the way for the Hawks in a 2-1 victory Tuesday against the Wings at the United Center. The Hawks won their fourth in a row, while Detroit’s six-game winning streak came to an end.
The goal of winning the Central Division seems far-fetched with the Wings having a sizable lead of 11 points. But after what they just endured on the road, another strong game by goalie Corey Crawford, improved defensive play and a win over the Wings without injured center Jonathan Toews will do. Detroit was without Pavel Datsyuk (knee surgery).
“We’re all doing the little things defensively,” said defenseman Duncan Keith, who is a plus-8 over the last three games. “With forwards back-checking hard and being a lot better in our own end and defensemen blocking shots, it makes everybody’s job easier.
“I think it’s frustrating for [Crawford] when we’re not playing well in front of him. We’ve given up some tough shots for him to make a save on. And he gets some of the criticism. It’s nice to play better in front of him, and he’s making the saves when we need them.”
Crawford (31 saves) was beaten by Valtteri Filppula 2:22 into the first period on a Wings power play and just 12 seconds before Kruger’s tripping penalty ended. But that was it. Crawford made several tough stops, including a crucial one on a redirection with 45 seconds left to preserve the victory.
Quenneville called the 3-1 victory Sunday over the Blues “a goalie win,” and this one was the same.
“Corey was rock-solid,” Quenne-ville said. “He was big, strong and controlled rebounds. They put a lot of big bodies and traffic at the net. They test you on almost every shift. I thought he was excellent.”
After a flurry of chances in the second period, Hayes was finally able to beat Jimmy Howard after getting position at the top of the crease at 7:45. Kruger scored 1:53 into the third as Hayes and Andrew Brunette were all over Howard.
“I’m trying to establish my game here,” Hayes said. “It’s not just about playing time. It’s helping the team win.”
Howard (27 saves) turned away several quality chances, including one on Patrick Sharp on a nice setup from Patrick Kane on a power play. He stopped Michael Frolik and Dave Bolland on breakaways.
The Hawks’ power play continued to flounder, going 0-for-3. They’re 0-for-30 since the All-Star break. But it hasn’t prevented the Hawks from recovering from their losing streak.
Their commitment to defense has been that noticeable.
“The last 10 minutes of that game, they got barely anything,” said Crawford, who has a .958 save percentage over his last four starts. “We were playing simple and making the plays that we should. ... We played great, and we played solid.”