DENVER – The Blackhawks weren’t looking for a fancy outing in their first game back from the All-Star break.
They just wanted a simple game and a positive ending to erase some of the negative ones they had prior to the respite. Thanks to some early offense, they got it.
Artemi Panarin scored his 18th goal of the season and Richard Panik added his third as the Blackhawks beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks remain atop the Central Division with 72 points; the Dallas Stars, which beat Winnipeg tonight, are three points back.
Corey Crawford stopped 22 of 23 for the victory. Calvin Pickard was great for the Avalanche, stopping 40 of 42 shots.
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The Blackhawks were without Jonathan Toews, who was suspended this game after missing the All-Star weekend with an illness. Toews will meet the team in Arizona. In Toews’ absence, the Blackhawks pulled together in a collective effort to stave off the Avs, who came out strong in the third period.
“I thought we did a real good job,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Good start, lot of safe plays, [we were] positionally aware, had the puck a lot and checked well. I liked the contribution. A lot of guys were stepping up in bigger roles. It was a nice response to that last game going into the break. We looked re-energized tonight.”
Teuvo Teravainen was one of those stepping up, centering the top line for Toews. But it was another change on that first line – at least in the first period – that got the Blackhawks offense going.
“I thought we had a really good first period and they were able to capitalize off a rush. But I thought it was a great game for us, especially we hadn’t been much together since the break,” Duncan Keith said. “We talked about having a good road game, and I think we did that.”
Panik, on his first shift with Andrew Shaw and Teravainen, scored to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead about three minutes into the game.Panik played most of the remaining game on the third line with Andrew Desjardins and Phillip Danault, but had a strong night on both lines.
“Very happy, very pleased. Tonight he was really good,” Quenneville said of Panik. “He was technically aware. Obviously scoring is nice and he had some jump. I liked his thought process in the game.”
Panarin then added his goal about four minutes later, taking a pass from Patrick Kane and beating Pickard on the backhand.
“It’s a natural chemistry,” Panarin said through his interpreter, regarding the connection he and Kane have. “[We] have the same style, good chemistry.”
The Blackhawks held the Avs to very little through the first two periods – Colorado managed just eight shots on goal through 40 minutes. Gabriel Landeskog cut the Blackhawks’ lead to 2-1 midway in the first period and the Avalanche picked up the pace, and the shot count, early in the third. Crawford had to be sharp in those opening third-period minutes and he was, stopping a multi-shot sequence early.
The Blackhawks didn’t need a fancy game on Tuesday. They were minus their captain and a veteran defenseman – Michal Rozsival was out with a lower-body injury and Viktor Svedberg, recalled this morning, had a good game in his place. They just needed to be smart and get a good outing out of that much-needed break.
“[The break] was definitely needed. We were definitely on fumes going into it,” Quenneville said. “But it’s nice to see us recapture the emotion and the pace and the strength.”