The Chicago Blackhawks are once again finding ways to win. With just over three seconds left, the Hawks pulled off an intense 4-3 victory over a Columbus Blue Jackets team fighting for their playoff lives. What’s just as impressive is that this team is starting to come together without their big-name superstars. In any case, the Hawks are starting to play much better and they now move closer to second place in the Central Division.
It looked as if the Hawks’ early-morning arrival and 6:00 p.m. start in Ohio may not have helped. The Jackets scored first on a fluke play after Antti Raanta made a fantastic save. Derek MacKenzie fired a one-timer off the rebound and past Raanta. The Hawks did answer late in the first period, however. Jeremy Morin, using Andrew Shaw as a screen, beat Sergei Bobrovsky with less than three minutes remaining.
The two teams traded a total of four goals in the second period. Ryan Johansen scored on a change — a Columbus change — just 36 seconds into the period. The Hawks answered four minutes late on a hard Patrick Sharp slap shot on the power play. Marian Hossa scored minutes later thanks to a fantastic pass by Kris Versteeg. The Jackets scored just over two minutes later, however, when Artem Anisimov scored on a centering pass that bounced off Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s stick in front of Raanta.
The third period was scoreless for most of the period, feeling like a playoff game until the final seconds. The Hawks were persistent enough and Ben Smith deflected the puck past Bobrovsky with just over three seconds remaining.
This was a fantastic win. It wasn’t pretty, but being pretty doesn’t always win games. Instead, the Hawks simplified their play and it helped big time. They passed the puck rather smartly and took shots when needed. Heck, the winning goal might have been a fluke if you look at it! But without their big stars, the Hawks are taking the right approach. They can’t afford to play pretty. In order to win, they needed to win grind-it-out games, even high-scoring grind-it-out games.
Of course, one can’t talk about this win without mentioning Antti Raanta. The Finnish netminder hasn’t won in over three months. But Raanta played well, keeping the Blue Jackets in check, even if he did let three goals — a couple of which weren’t even his fault. The defense was a little shaky without Johnny Oduya, and you have to feel bad for Hjalmarsson. But they still played well, especially now that Michal Rozsival is back.
The rest of the Hawks also played well. Morin silenced some doubts about his talent by scoring the first goal of the night. He should be given some ice time in the playoffs. More credit should be given to Bryan Bickell as well. Now, I normally don’t like fighting, but Bickell stood up after Jared Boll delivered a bad hit on Peter Regin. The latter, of course, was right in front of the net for the winning goal.
The Hawks are taking steps in the right direction. It’s actually pretty amazing that not having their two superstars is benefiting them instead of harming them. Note that’s not a knock on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but it’s apparently true, however, not in the way you think. Chicago has been forced to find a way to win and they’ve done it. By simplifying their game, they can win. If they take this philosophy into the postseason, who knows what they can accomplish.