Red-hot Alex DeBrincat sparks Blackhawks in win over Rangers

Red-hot Alex DeBrincat sparks Blackhawks in win over Rangers

A break. A fortunate bounce. A squeaker of a goal. Recently the Blackhawks haven’t had a lot of the puck luck that hockey teams talk about all the time. But when Alex DeBrincat’s shot slipped through New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist late in the second period, the Blackhawks got a big break and didn’t let it go to waste.

Through most of the third period the Blackhawks looked like a more familiar group, one that was opportunistic around loose pucks and rebounds. Artem Anisimov was the main benefactor, scoring a natural hat trick – his first career hat trick – in the Blackhawks’ 6-3 victory against his former team. But the Blackhawks’ overall reaction in the opening minutes of the third period is something they need to build on going forward.

“It was a huge goal for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had a good second period and did a lot of good things and that all of a sudden gets us excited about the third and we had a great beginning.”

The Blackhawks were doing more right in the second period, outside of their power play late in the period. Several in the United Center crowd booed as the Blackhawks came up empty on that advantage, but DeBrincat’s goal not long after changed the crowd’s mood and momentum.

“It’s DeBrincat’s goal. That was the spark. [It was] like, OK, we have a tight game right now, we sat and [thought] about it in the locker room: just go out there and play,” Anisimov said. “It was an important goal for our team game and at the end of the period it gives us a little boost for the third period and we just kept going.”

The Blackhawks needed to reverse their fortunes. There wasn’t much working for them lately; on nights when Corey Crawford was outstanding they couldn’t score and when they did erupt for seven goals on Sunday he had an off night. On Wednesday the Blackhawks were more opportunistic, less panicky when the Rangers started to come back in the third period and composed enough to get a much-needed two points.

And it all started with that DeBrincat goal.

“I think it was kind of a lucky one, just a shot on net trying to create something and it happened to squeak through and gave us a lot of momentum there,” DeBrincat said. “Shoot the puck is the lesson there: good things can happen when you shoot the puck on net."

Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

The biggest storyline of Blackhawks training camp 2.0 was Corey Crawford missing the first 12 days because he had tested positive for COVID-19. He showed up on the final practice day in Chicago, which was exactly one week from the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Blackhawks did everything they could to get him ready for Game 1, but you knew it would take him a while to get back into top form. And it has.

In the first three games against the Oilers, Crawford allowed 13 goals on 92 shots for a save percentage of .859 and had a minus-5.68 goals saved above average, according to Natural Stat Trick, which ranked dead last among all goaltenders. 

But when the Blackhawks needed him most in Game 4, Crawford delivered. 

The two-time Stanley Cup champion turned aside 41 of 43 shots for a save percentage of .953 in Friday’s 3-2 series-clinching win against the Oilers, including all 18 in the third period, a handful of which came from high-danger areas.

"He's a huge part of our team and he played real well today," Dominik Kubalik said. "I thought he was our best player."

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To take it a step further: Crawford stopped 16 of 18 shots from the slot and had nine saves from the inner slot, which is the third-most in a game by any goaltender this postseason, according to Sportlogiq. The Oilers had an expected goals for rate of 4.33 but scored only twice, which means Crawford saved the Blackhawks 2.33 goals.

It was a vintage performance between the pipes for No. 50.

"Obviously it wasn't the best scenario," Crawford said of having just one week to get ramped up for the qualifying round. "I would have liked to have had a few more weeks of practice and see more pucks coming into the series. But it is what it is. I think I felt way better each game, playing each game and just seeing different scenarios and situations. Once you get more of that, just the better you feel. Tonight was obviously better."

Despite turning in a terrific outing on Friday, Crawford admitted “there’s still some work to do” before he feels like in peak form. But if he gets there in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks could be a dangerous underdog team.

"I was able to kind of hide back there until I started feeling comfortable," Crawford said. "Still don't think I'm at the top of my game, but it was definitely better today."

Podcast: Blackhawks move on with 3-2 series-clinching win over the Oilers

Podcast: Blackhawks move on with 3-2 series-clinching win over the Oilers

It's been 5 years since the Hawks have won a playoff series and it feels so good. Host Pat Boyle is joined by Blackhawks analyst Steve Konroyd as they discuss the series-clinching Game 4 win over the Oilers, the importance of the win, and a look ahead to what's next for the Hawks.

(1:10) - Hawks were given a lottery ticket into the playoffs this year

(6:41) - Hawks still need to fix a few things

(10:00) - Jeremy Colliton tried 2 different lines with Kane in the series

(15:30) - The young players on the Hawks stepped up big this series

(18:48) - How do the Hawks match up against the Vegas Knights and Colorado Avalanche?

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