By Brad Gardner
It had been nearly a month since Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks were able to put one in the win column, but they did just that against one of the league’s top teams with 4-2 victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. A scorched-earth policy from the big guns of the Blackhawks propelled the team to its first win since January 20th and first road victory since December 14th.
All four goals for Chicago came during the first 10 minutes of the game. The visitors were out to a 3-0 lead just four minutes into the game and then able to extend it about five minutes later. The penalty kill and a solid defensive effort at the other end of the ice was enough to stave off the relentless Rangers.
Jonathan Toews got the scoring started just over a minute into the first period. The chance originated in the defensive zone when Patrick Sharp forced a turnover and pushed the puck the other way. Toews out-skated two Rangers and was able to control a bounce pass from Sharp to get a shot in on goalie Martin Biron. The Blackhawks were awarded a penalty shot when Dan Girardi covered the puck in the crease, resulting in the captain tucking the puck through Biron’s five hole to get the ‘Hawks on the board first.
Marian Hossa had a dominant shift to follow the goal, eventually feeding Nick Leddy in the slot for the game’s second goal. Hossa carried the puck around the entire perimeter the offensive zone before setting up Leddy’s one-timer. John Scott was parked in front of the net and prevented Biron from getting a look at the goal that put the visitors up 2-0.
About two minutes later, Patrick Sharp extended the lead to 3-0 on a breakaway tally. Toews sent the long stretch pass right up the middle of the ice and onto the stick of Sharp, who skated in and put his snap shot through Biron’s glove side. The goalie got a chunk of the shot, but not enough to keep the puck out of the net. The goal was Sharp’s 23rd of the season and ended a five-game goal drought for the winger.
Even after jumping out to a big lead in the first four minutes, the Blackhawks’ grasp on the game was tenuous in the early-going. Andrew Shaw drew a holding penalty in the offensive zone and, just after the whistle blew, Scott put his weight into Rangers’ forward John Mitchell and knocked him against the boards. That drew the attention of the referees, as well as the home squad, and the scrum resulted in a pair of minors for Scott, boarding and roughing, and two minutes to Mike Rupp.
The Blackhawks were given the choice between facing two minutes of 5-on-3 or four minutes of 5-on-4 hockey and opted for the latter. The penalty kill was excellent, giving up just one shot over the course of the four minutes and keeping the Rangers from ever setting up with continued pressure.
Seconds after the four minutes were killed off, Patrick Kane sprung Marian Hossa for another breakaway goal on Biron. Ryan McDonagh pinched and made an attempt at the puck as Kane got it on his stick near the faceoff dot. That gave Hossa room up the ice and he was too quick for Girardi to cover, putting his 22nd goal of the season between the legs of the Ranger’s goalie.
Chicago held the 4-0 lead into the first intermission, but Marc Staal got the Rangers on the board 3:04 into the second period with his first goal of the season. The presence of Stu Bickell in front of the net prevented Crawford from getting a clean look of the open shot from the defenseman Staal and the puck slid underneath Crawford as he dropped down to the ice.
The special teams units for both teams got plenty of work through the middle of the second. An interference penalty called on Toews was nullified when Jamal Mayers drew a call against Brad Richards. Brandon Dubinsky increased the Chicago advantage with a pair of minors on separate hits to Marcus Kruger and Sharp in the same shift. The Rangers had another opportunity with the advantage on a too-many men call against the ‘Hawks later in the second, but neither unit could convert on a power play chance.
Crawford was the recipient of a couple fortunate bounces in the middle period as well that helped keep the lead at three goals. Marian Gaborik had a great opportunity on a loose puck in the crease, but it hit the post and bounced along the red line until it was pinned beneath Crawford’s skate. The referee blew the play dead before Ryan Callahan was able to get it in the net. The Chicago netminder also lucked out after he kicked a rebound right to Mike Rupp, but the Rangers winger sent the shot wide of the open net.
Chicago managed just three shots in the third period as they tried to hold off the Rangers comeback attempt. Crawford was steady through much of the frame and did a better job of soaking up shots. He had some big saves, including a stop against what turned into a breakaway from Brian Boyle against Sami Lepisto. The goalie got another break in the third as well when Mitchell’s redirect drew iron.
Carl Hagelin was credited with the Rangers second goal with less than five minutes remaining in the game. McDonagh carried the puck towards the net and made a nice move around Dave Bolland to get open. He banked the puck off of Hagelin and between the legs of Crawford to draw the home team within two.
The Rangers sent out the extra attacker with about 2:20 left but were unable to get another past Crawford, leading to the 4-2 final score in New York.
– Chicago’s four goals in the game’s first 10 minutes was marked departure from previous efforts. Coming into the game, they had just 13 goals in over 540 minutes of hockey during the nine-game losing streak.
– Crawford was shaky at times but seemed to settle in with the lead as the game wore on. He controlled his rebounds fairly well and never found himself too far from his crease, which made the difference on several occasions against pressure from the Rangers around the blue paint. The breaks have not been going Crawford’s way of late, so even if the win included a few close calls, it ought to boost his confidence.
– The ‘Hawks penalty kill was a perfect 7-for-7 on the night, providing just as big a momentum push at times as the quick-strike offense. They won loose pucks and filled the shooting lanes well, limiting the Rangers to just five shots in almost 10 minutes of power play time.
– The Chicago offense made it look easy early on, finding two breakaways in addition to the penalty shot from Toews. Martin Biron got a piece of all three of those tallies but not enough. He did not have a lot of help from his defense, which gave up odd-man rushes throughout the game, but no one wants to see the likes Toews, Hossa, or Sharp skating over the blue line uncontested.
– New York out-hit Chicago 32 to 14 on the score sheet, but you wouldn’t have known it by any other measure. The ‘Hawks won plenty of board battles and the defensemen by and large made the right plays against the aggressive Rangers’ forecheck.
– Joel Quenneville rolled with the same lines as he did in Nashville, meaning Brendan Morrison and Michael Frolik were the scratches. Before anyone starts worrying, know that John Scott was on the ice for Leddy’s goal because Brunette changed as Hossa and the ‘Hawks held the puck in the offensive zone.
– Scott skated 2:19 of total ice time and earned 4 PIMs in the first period. He did not take another shift after he was on the ice for the Staal goal, even though the booth was quick to point out that Andrew Shaw left Staal open in pressuring the wrong point man.
– 3 stars of the game…. 3. Patrick Sharp, 2. Marian Hossa, 1. Jonathan Toews
– The Blackhawks take the ice early Saturday in Columbus with a noon central start.
In addition to covering the Blackhawks for TheThirdManIn.com, Brad is also the Blackhawks correspondent at HockeysFuture.com.