Streaking Blackhawks thump lowly Blue Jackets
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org March 20, 2012 10:40PM
Teammates congratulate Patrick Sharp after he scored a power-play goal in the third period. | Jamie Sabau~Getty Images
Updated: April 22, 2012 10:20AM
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Things are going so well for the Blackhawks that when coach Joel Quenneville asks for something, he usually receives it — and then some.
Better starts to games? The Hawks have taken multi-goal leads in the first period in three consecutive games.
An effective checking line? The trio of Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw has played a huge role in their recent hot streak, scoring key goals and shutting down opponents.
Offensive production from the blue line? The Hawks’ top pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith has collected plenty of points in their impressive run.
Leadership from the stars? Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are playing at a level that opponents have been unable to match or contain for weeks.
Consistent goaltending? Corey Crawford looks better and better with each game.
Power-play production? The Hawks’ much-maligned unit scored twice in a 5-1 rout Tuesday of the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
There are just plenty of good things going for the Hawks as the postseason nears.
Since their nine-game losing streak, the Hawks have gone 12-4-1 — including 9-4-1 without star center Jonathan Toews (concussion), who skated Tuesday in Chicago — and are two points behind the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings with 90 points and eight games left.
Sharp became the first Hawk to reach 30 goals with two against Columbus, and Keith had a career-high four assists to lead the Hawks. Shaw and Hossa each had a goal and an assist, and Seabrook also scored.
The Hawks took a 3-0 lead in the first period on Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason (22 saves) thanks to some fortunate bounces and some soft goals. Crawford stopped 24 of 25 shots, losing his shutout bid on Rick Nash’s tipped goal at 12:31 in the third period.
“The losing streak that we were on after the All-Star break helped us out more than it hurt us,” Sharp said. “You never want to lose that many in a row, but it taught us a few lessons about how to play the right way. The coaches have been preaching a certain style of play, and we’ve bought in.”
That style, of course, meant focusing on checking, especially by the forwards. They are now supporting their defensemen down low and covering for them when they leave the front of the net. They are more engaged in the neutral zone. There are fewer breakdowns overall and fewer plays in which their goalies have to bail them out.
That commitment to defense is a big reason, Shaw and Keith say, the Hawks have been able to jump out to quick leads on teams. In six of their last 12 wins, the Hawks have allowed one goal.
“When you’re playing good defense, offensive chances will come,” Shaw said. “I feel that’s what we’ve been doing.”
“We’ve gone through a lot this year,” Keith said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. I think we’ve learned how we need to play, and at the same time, we’re not going to take anything for granted.”
They won’t against the rival Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.
“Let’s try to keep the momentum, knowing that they’ll be excited about playing [us] as well,” Quenneville said. “It’s a very meaningful game.”