Jonathan Toews scores OT winner as Blackhawks top Lightning


Jonathan Toews scores OT winner as Blackhawks top Lightning

Coach Joel Quenneville liked how the Blackhawks kept the Florida Panthers’ shot total low on Thursday, although he added, “we don’t expect too many nights like [Thursday] night.”

But on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Blackhawks kind of had another night like that. And it helped them gain a point before their captain helped them gain another.

Corey Crawford stopped all 21 shots he faced and Jonathan Toews scored the winner in overtime as the Blackhawks beat the Lightning 1-0 on Saturday night. The Blackhawks have won three in a row heading into Monday night’s game against Anaheim, the team they eliminated in the Western Conference Final last spring.

In their second game without Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks once again put defense first. As Quenneville said, the Blackhawks didn’t want to change their approach in Keith’s absence, and defense has always been a priority. It may be even more so now, and the Blackhawks have played accordingly.

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The Lightning, who were averaging 3.4 goals per game entering this one, finished this night the same way they did Game 6 in June: held scoreless.

“I think we caught a couple breaks, too, tonight,” said Crawford, who recorded his first shutout of this season and 13th of his career. “They made a few good plays where it was off the post. A couple good bounces, fortunate bounces, but you get those some nights. Some nights they go our way. The other night they didn’t go our way on a goal. We played pretty solid against them. Both teams match up with their speed and skill game.”

Kristers Gudlevskis, the man who stopped 55 of 57 shots for Latvia against Team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics, stopped 31 of 32 against the Blackhawks. Gudlevskis, recalled by Tampa on Friday, denied the Blackhawks on several great scoring opportunities.

Still, it was another 17-seconds moment for the Blackhawks when Toews scored at that point of the overtime.

“Yeah, it could go either way. Sometimes you just need one chance and that’s what happens,” Toews said. “Against a team like that, knowing the skill they have, you’re trying to get the puck as quick as you can. After that, if not, you’re trying to be on the prudent side, making sure you don’t give up anything too crazy against because we all know what they can do with the puck. It ended up going our way there.”

The Blackhawks are still putting defense first, even while their top defenseman recuperates from right-knee surgery. It’s worked for them for several seasons now. It worked for them in Game 6 against the Lightning. It worked again vs. Tampa Bay on Saturday.

“I don’t think the pace was quite Stanley Cup Final worthy but we knew what we had to do against that team,” Toews said. “They played last night, we wanted to wear them down, find our chances late in the game. We showed the type of game we’re looking for, given our new look, new group this year. That was a patient game we were looking for against a skilled team and we waited for our bounces. If it takes one goal, we’ll win that way. But I think we worked hard on the offensive side of the puck and finally got one that made the difference.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."