RALEIGH, N.C. — The Blackhawks wanted to into the All-Star break with a better outing than they did heading into the Christmas one.
Riley Nash scored two goals and Joakim Nordstrom scored against his former team as the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Blackhawks, 5-0, on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks have lost three of their last four games, but they’ll nevertheless enter the break leading the Central Division with 70 points. Dallas remains in second with 67 points, and St. Louis is third with 64 points; neither the Stars nor Blues play again before the break.
Corey Crawford was pulled after allowing three goals on 16 shots in the first period. Scott Darling allowed two over the final 40 minutes. Jonathan Toews did not play at all in the third period. He’s been fighting illness the last few days, and as coach Joel Quenneville said, “he’s pretty run down."
The Blackhawks, who have had a busy schedule since coming out of the Christmas respite, looked sluggish in their last few games. That includes Tuesday, when the Hurricanes outmatched the Blackhawks in every aspect of their contest.
From the start the Hurricanes were ready. They created plenty of traffic and opportunities in front of Crawford and capitalized three times. A Jeff Skinner redirect gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead, and Nash scored the first of his two for a 2-0 advantage. Jean-Michael Liles scored his fifth of the season about 15 minutes into the third for a 3-0 Carolina lead.
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“It was pretty evident right from the beginning that we were in a lot of trouble tonight,” Quenneville said. “We lost every puck battle, every single race, and getting behind early was only bigger problems ahead of us. It was an ugly game across the board. Nothing positive came out of it, except it’s over.”
Indeed, things didn’t get much better in the second period, when Nordstrom scored for a 4-0 lead. It was Nordstrom’s third goal in as many games. Nash added his second less than two minutes later.
“We don’t like to make any excuses, but you look at the schedule, we probably played, three, four or five more games than other teams in the league,” Patrick Kane said. “I don’t know if it was bound to happen, but we had a good stretch there where we won 12 in a row. Obviously that got us to where we want to be going into this little break. Tough one tonight and ... it goes without saying we didn’t have our best tonight.”
The Blackhawks sputtered in their final week before the break, but their 12-game winning streak prior to that has them in a good place. They would’ve liked a better end to the break. They didn’t get it. Now they better rest up, because the stretch run isn’t going to be easy.
“The best thing to do right now is probably get away form the game for a few days, relax and get ready for the late push,” Kane said. “I’m sure when we come back we should have a sour taste in our mouth, especially after these last few games.”