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Pirri, Crawford seal shootout win for Blackhawks

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Updated: November 14, 2013 11:30PM

As deft as his stickwork was on his deflection that tied the game, and as crafty as his move was on his game-clinching goal in the shootout, perhaps the most encouraging sign from Brandon Pirri on Thursday night was how down on himself he was about his defensive play — particularly the puck he deflected into his own net in the first period.

“It wasn’t one of my better games,” Pirri said after being the hero in the Blackhawks’ wild 5-4 shootout victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has been complimentary of the play of the Hawks’ young players’ offensive ability, while also being rather blunt about how much they need to improve defensively. It took the gifted Pirri weeks before he got a crack at second-line center. And Jeremy Morin sat out the last three games because of his defensive deficiencies before returning to the lineup Thursday — only to be sent down to Rockford following the game and the surprising addition of Kris Versteeg via trade.

That growth starts with recognizing one’s own mistakes. And so Pirri’s self-criticism — after a win, no less — was a step in the right direction.

“They’re starting to understand the expectations — positionally, where to be, the quickness and the support, being predictable and reliable,” Quenneville said. “That’s what we’ll continue to reinforce, and we expect progress.”

These days, the Hawks also expect goals. Lots of them. And they got them again, despite Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith’s best effort. The Hawks, who hit the five-goal mark (albeit artificially with the shootout) for the sixth time in their last eight games, bombarded Smith with 52 shots. Smith surrendered Pirri’s equalizer on a deflection of a low Brent Seabrook shot four seconds after a power play expired early in the third, but made 16 saves in that period alone to salvage a point for the Coyotes.

It was the third time the typically defensive-minded Coyotes have given up 50 or more shots in a game this season, and that was pretty much the Hawks’ game plan.

“We just tried putting pressure on him,” Pirri said. “Had to be greasy goals.”

Most of them were. The Hawks took a 2-0 lead early on a rebound goal by Brandon Saad and a seeing-eye shot through an Andrew Shaw screen by Patrick Sharp on a power play. After Phoenix climbed right back in it with goals by Michael Stoner (inadvertently redirected into his own net by Pirri) and Shane Doan (on a power play), Marian Hossa followed his own shot for a rebound goal at 5:05 of the second period.

Two goals in 2:11 by Lauri Koprikoski and Stone gave the Coyotes a 4-3 lead heading into the third period, but Pirri’s quick hands redirected Seabrook’s shot past Smith and sent the game to overtime.

The shootout win makes the Hawks 7-0-1 in their last eight games. The Hawks have a whopping 36 goals in those eight games.

“I feel like when we play more games, we’re getting better and better,” Hossa said. “Obviously we have to work on a few things, but I think the overall performance is getting better.”

It wasn’t a convincing victory for the Hawks, but it was a cathartic one. The Coyotes entered the game having won six straight games at the United Center, and 8-1-1 in their last 10 here, including their first-round playoff series victory over the Hawks in 2012.

This fact was not lost on Patrick Kane, who recited that fact off the top of his head after the morning skate. Nor was it lost on Quenneville, who said “we want to kill it tonight in the worst way.” It wasn’t easy, but it was satisfying all the same.

“They had a little streak going here,” Pirri said. “And we don’t like losing to anyone.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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