DALLAS — The shootout, by its very nature, is a rather silly way to decide a hockey game. Perhaps the ultimate team sport distilled into a one-on-one skills competition for a crucial standings point that could end up determining playoff positioning come April. Hockey purists abhor it, and the NHL is kicking around ways to make them as infrequent as possible.
Thing is, though, they can be awfully fun to watch — and to play in.
“If we win, yeah,” Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford said. “Otherwise, there’s no point in being there.”
So Friday night’s epic 11-round shootout that ended when Ben Smith scored to give the Hawks a 2-1 comeback victory over the Dallas Stars was plenty fun for the Hawks, as it extended their win streak to five games.
“That’s the way it is,” said Smith, who beat Kari Lehtonen high on his first career NHL shootout attempt after most of the Hawks were stymied trying to go low on him. “Obviously you want to win in regulation or overtime, but the fans love it. For us to battle for 65 minutes and to win that way, we’ll take it.”
It was the third time in the last four games that the Hawks have won after trailing 1-0 through two periods, something that Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said “showed great character.”
It also gave Crawford — who withstood 10 of 11 Stars in the shootout, as well as a penalty shot in the second period — his 100th career regular-season victory.
“It’s pretty big,” Crawford said. “It’s important. That’s definitely the most important stat. Hopefully there’s a lot more to go.”
The shootout was fitting — only three of 22 players scored — as offense came at a premium in this one. After scoring in 11 straight periods — plus an overtime — against Dallas, the Hawks came up empty through two periods, the Stars leading 1-0 on Rich Peverley’s first-period goal after Crawford strayed way too far from his own crease.
The Stars played at a very high pace early on, and the Hawks looked like they were suddenly feeling the effects of being on Night 12 of a seven-city, 13-night road trip. They were a bit a sloppy in their own end and lacked the usual jump that has made them the highest-scoring team in the league.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said before the game that a few off periods here and there were inevitable on a trip like this, and his players were proving him right early on.
“It’s been a long road trip for us,” Crawford said. “But it’s just another game where we find a way to get two points.”
Indeed, just as they did Wednesday night in Calgary, the Hawks turned it on in the third period. Dallas was down to just five defensemen after Stephane Robidas broke his right leg in a gruesome fall along the boards in the second period, and the Hawks put the pressure on the shorthanded Stars in the third period.
They finally broke through at 7:21 of the third, when Patrick Sharp redirected a Duncan Keith shot through Lehtonen’s legs for a 1-1 tie. It was Keith’s 21st assist of the season — tops among defensemen and third in the league, just three behind Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin for the league lead.
Crawford and Lehtonen did the rest — Crawford making a big stop on Jamie Benn, Lehtonen denying Patrick Kane’s last-minute scoring chance, ending Kane’s career-high point streak at 12 games — to send the game to overtime, then to the never-ending shootout.
The Hawks might be tired, and they might not be at their best.
The standings say otherwise.
“The last couple games, we probably haven’t been what we want to be,” Smith said. “But we’ve come out with four points, and that’s the biggest thing.”