Aside from last weekend’s tilt with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, Thursday night presented the Blackhawks with what could turn out to be one of their tougher matchups here in the earlygoing.
The Colorado Avalanche were a terrible disappointment last year, but still managed to give the Hawks fits in the four meetings the two teams had in 2010-2011, with the Avs taking three of those contests.
This year, they came in with a bit of a revamped roster, particularly in goal. They added size on the defensive end and what they hope is a future star between the pipes, in former Washington Capital Semyon Varlamov.
Thursday’s game was every bit what most expected between the Blackhawks and the Avalanche. With the Avs coming in having won five games in a row, and the Hawks gaining a point in their last four, the stage was set for a thriller.
What fans were treated to was just that. The two goalies, Varlamov and Corey Crawford, put on a show as the two sides battled to a close 3-1 result, with the Hawks grabbing the two points.
Despite being outshot 13-6 in the first period, the Hawks held a 1-0 edge after the opening frame. That tally came courtesy of Jonathan Toews, who took a beautiful feed from behind the net from Daniel Carcillo (not a typo) and lifted a nifty backhand past Varlamov.
The rest of the time it was up to Crawford, who stoned the Avs on all 13 shots in the period and had 31 saves for the game, overall.
The only blemish of the night for Crawford came on the Ryan O’Byrne deflection that leveled the score at one. The score would remain tied until Patrick Sharp found the back of the net just over seven minutes into the third. After firing a shot from the circle to Varlamov’s left, Andrew Brunette couldn’t put the rebound in, but Sharp picked up his rebound and ripped it past Varlamov from the other circle for the 2-1 lead.
Marian Hossa would seal the deal with the empty netter, which Toews setup with just over a minute left.
Beyond the fact that the top line for the Blackhawks showed up for the second consecutive game, the other major positive was the play of the top defensive unit. Despite the play of Nick Leddy early on, he and Duncan Keith have struggled to find consistent chemistry on the no. 1 defensive line. The two looked stellar on Thursday, with Leddy adding an assist on the Toews goal.
But the story of the night was Crawford. He kept the Avs out of the net in the first period and made big save after big save for the Hawks. This is the type of game these Hawks would have lost last year. All Crawford needed was a bit of help, which he got as the game went on.
The two sides will have a rematch in the second half of the home-and-home when they meet in Chicago on Saturday.