Wednesday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks had the makings of a potential playoff matchup from the beginning. Once again, when the Blackhawks needed a statement victory against a potential playoff foe, they delivered.
Thanks to excellent performances from Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks’ penalty kill unit, the Blackhawks have officially recovered from their midseason slump and returned to their championship form.
The game was a quintessential performance from the top down, with the Blackhawks’ top line setting the tempo early defensively against a strong Anaheim offense. Crawford withstood 15 first-period shots and earned his third win of February, once again looking like an excellent goaltender. Crawford continues to perform with poise on the biggest stages, a strong sign for a Blackhawks team with aspirations of making a deep playoff run.
However, the most surprising part of tonight’s game was the Blackhawks’ penalty kill, which was a perfect five-for-five against the Ducks’ now 17th ranked power play. Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus seem to have finally gelled like the Blackhawks have wanted them to, and the Blackhawks’ defensemen were excellent despite not having Johnny Oduya due to injury.
Chicago’s penalty kill is now ranked 22nd in the NHL at 80.2 percent, a stark improvement from where they were earlier in the season. A large reason is likely the impact of captain Toews, who is not only the Blackhawks’ locker room leader, but a member of the penalty kill unit. Toews now has 54 points on the season including three in February, and continues to lead the Blackhawks’ top line to consistent dominance.
The Blackhawks have one remaining game on their road trip before the Olympic break, and are looking to remain undefeated on their west coast trip.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486