DALLAS – In the Blackhawks’ first few games of the season, the penalty kill was clearly their Achilles’ heel. It gave up goals, it lost momentum and it lost them games.
On Saturday, it was a big reason why they won.
Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 33 shots and the Blackhawks killed off 1:49 of power-play time at the end of regulation to beat the Dallas Stars 3-2. The Blackhawks have now won five in a row and six of their last seven.
Patrick Kane had the game-winning goal, on a second-period power play, and an assist. Artem Anisimov recorded the primary assist on Kane’s goal, pushing his point streak to a career-best 10 games. Richard Panik scored his seventh goal of the season 11 seconds into the game.
But in the end, the Blackhawks’ kill was crucial. Marcus Kruger was whistled for a four-minute high-sticking penalty with 1:49 remaining in regulation. The Blackhawks would only have to kill off the first part of that minor but the Stars pulled Antti Niemi on that final 1:49 to gain a 6-on-4 advantage. The Blackhawks, led by Crawford, held off the threat; they have now killed off 15 consecutive penalties.
“Yeah, you don’t want to be in that situation at the end but our guys played it really well,” Crawford said. “We stayed patient, especially with the extra man on for them. Our PK’s been really confident as of late. Another solid win for us against a really strong team.”
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Jonathan Toews, who assisted on Panik’s goal, said the Blackhawks are gaining confidence with the kill again.
“So it started out as just not doing anything close to what we were supposed to do in tight situations like that, whether it was the kill of 5-on-5. We committed to working hard, moving our feet and keeping our shifts short and helping each other do our job instead of trying to do it all ourselves,” he said. “I think your confidence builds after a few games of doing things the right way and now it’s in a spot where we can protect a lead, a one-goal lead for an entire period against a really offensive team like them.”
The Blackhawks wasted no time taking the lead in this one, but nevertheless trailed the Stars at the end of the first period. They got a boost early in the second from Ryan Hartman, whose second goal of the season tied it at 2-2 just 2:59 into the period.
“I thought Hartman had an unbelievable game tonight. He was special in every aspect, as far as producing offense, hitting guys, being engaged,” Kane said. “He was fun to watch out there, had a huge goal and we were able to come away with a big one.”
Kane had the biggest goal, however, on the power play 7:40 into the second period. But it was that kill at the end that sealed it.
The Blackhawks are at their best when they have the team mentality. As Toews said, that goes in every situation, including the penalty kill. The first few games were not memorable for the Blackhawks’ kill. It cost them games. Now it’s back to helping the Blackhawks win them.
“Big kill at the end, big kills throughout the game as well. They’ve been doing better things, be it off the entry or in-zone pressuring and getting in lanes of shots,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Big saves, big clears and working together.”