By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks shut down one of the league’s hottest teams Thursday night in Denver with a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. In a contest rife with big scoring chances, Corey Crawford won a duel in net with Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov to stop the Avs win streak at five games.
Crawford, who stopped 31 of 32 Colorado shots, had to be on his toes in the opening minutes as the Avs assaulted the ‘Hawks net minder early and often. Gabriel Landeskog caught Nick Leddy going the wrong way and fired one on net in the first minute. A penalty for too many men on the ice put Colorado’s power play unit into action just over two minutes into the contest.
Jonathan Toews took a shorthanded attempt strong to the net but was turned away. Chicago killed the penalty and soon generated some chances of its own. Marian Hossa was just a bit late on a rebound off of a Brent Seabrook shot. Ryan O’Reilly beat Crawford’s glove but drew only iron.
Both teams kept trading opportunities until Nick Leddy chipped the puck behind the net late in the first period. Toews received a centering pass from the end boards courtesy of Daniel Carcillo. The captain had enough elevation on the backhand to beat Semyon Varlamov and give the ‘Hawks the game’s first goal at the 17:02 mark.
The fast pace continued in the second period. Colorado once again came hard to the Blackhawks goal. Solid play by Crawford and some timely plays by the defensemen kept the Avs off the scoreboard.
After turning away the Avalanche’s first 20 shots, Crawford was victimized for the equalizer with 4:33 to play in the period. Joakim Lindstrom found Matt Duchene coming toward the net. Duchene’s shot bounced off Ryan O’Byrne and past the ‘Hawks goalie.
Toews was denied in front of the net in the 17th minute and a streaking Seabrook had a gem of an opportunity turned away by Varlamov in the closing seconds. The teams went into the second intermission tied 1-1.
Varlamov turned away Michael Frolik, set up beautifully by Bryan Bickell at the Avs doorstep in the sixth minute of the third period. The ‘Hawks were able to get what turned out to be the game-winner as the midway point of the period approached.
Duncan Keith put the kibosh on a potential odd man rush, then Patrick Sharp took the puck into the Colorado zone. Varlamov couldn’t soak up Sharp’s shot, but stopped Andrew Brunette’s put-back attempt.
Sharp collected a rolling puck, turned, and fired a short-side wrist shot that met up with twine, giving Chicago a 2-1 lead with 12:40 to play. Varlamov, who was nearly Crawford’s equal on this night in making 27 saves on 29 shots, kept his club in the game by denying several point-blank chances. This included a one-timer by Marcus Kruger off a nice feed from Patrick Kane with just over five minutes to play.
Colorado’s last push came when Seabrook was called for tripping with 2:33 remaining in the contest. The Avalanche’s dangerous power play group was foiled by the ‘Hawks in crunch time despite Colorado pulling Varlamov. A big shot block by Niklas Hjalmarsson led to Hossa gaining control of the puck for the game-icing short-hander into the empty net.
–Crawford saw considerably more action than he did in Tuesday’s game in Phoenix. Once again, Crawford continues to shine in net.
–Crawford got a lot of help from his blue line despite his impressive showing. Leddy and Keith led the defensemen in minutes, but all three pairings were solid. I certainly feel better with Sean O’Donnell and Steve Montador as the third pairing than the collection of players engaged by the ‘Hawks at this time last year.
–The penalty kill was up to the task, but the best way for Chicago to limit the damage done was a disciplined effort that limited the Avs to two chances to work.
–Isn’t it nice to be able to give the fourth line minutes in the third period of a tie game against a team as speedy as Colorado? In a related story, John Scott’s view of the game was from upstairs.
–It looks like Saturday’s end of the home and home will be a track meet as well. More success at the dot might make the going easier for the ‘Hawks. Colorado won 31 draws to Chicago’s 23.
—Brandon Saad is apparently flexing his muscle for his junior team in Saginaw of the OHL. He had four goals and an assist in a 5-2 wins over Brampton last night.