Hawks stand up to physical Blues for big win


Hawks stand up to physical Blues for big win

This victory over a feisty St. Louis Blues squad showed off the Blackhawks' skill, and a fair share of toughness and grit, too. It was something that hadn't been on display for a while.

"It's never easy in this building, but we played a solid road game, where everybody chips in, and special teams were big tonight," said Marian Hossa, who scored two special teams goals in the 5-2 win at Scottrade Center Saturday night.

Hossa's shorthanded goal in the second period turned what might have been a potential 3-1 deficit into a 2-2 tie, and once it got to that point, Patrick Sharp and Hossa scored the next pair - sandwiched around the second intermission - on the man-advantage.

It cooled off a hard-charging St. Louis team that had crept to within two points of the Hawks in the Central by going 8-1-3 under new bench boss Ken Hitchcock. And individually, it cooled off goalie Brian Elliott, who hadn't given up more than two goals in a game this season, while leading the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage.

Those two power-play goals, coupled with a 3-for-3 penalty kill (albeit against the NHL's worst power play), helped complete a hard-fought, much-needed four-point weekend.

"We knew we were gonna have to weather the storm," said captain Jonathan Toews, who was among five Hawks stars (Hossa, Sharp, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith) who drove this victory. "Killing some penalties, finding a way to protect the lead and play with urgency. It's a big win against any team, but especially against this team."

Especially, because, St. Louis plays it physical against the Hawks, and while the official hit totals seemed a little low for both teams -- 17-12 in favor of the Blues -- the Hawks gave back enough of what they took.

Referees Tom Kowal and Francois St. Laurent let each team push the envelope until things started getting carried away after Sharp's goal made it 3-2 with under five minutes left in the middle frame. On top of that, those that may not have highlighted the scoresheet pitched in with solid play in all three zones, with few exceptions.

"I thought across the board, we played excellent," head coach Joel Quenneville said. "We got contributions from everybody. Expectations were met. That short-handed goal really took us off."

The beneficiary of that solid, consistent defensive coverage was Ray Emery, who wasn't too bad himself in improving to 3-0-0 in his career against the Blues. What a difference two weeks makes after he had to dig the puck out of the net behind him on seven of Edmonton's nine goals in his last start on Nov. 19. That night north of the border, Emery was often hung out to try by a lackluster effort in front of him.

"That's a while ago, that last one," Emery said. "Those happen once or twice a year where it gets away early. You just gotta bounce back and not let it happen a second time in a row."

He didn't, and the team didn't after being the first victim of Hitchcock's Blues. It helped send about half the crowd home happy, as the Hawks enjoyed a big traveling contingent.

"It was nice to make it worth the trip for our fans here," Toews concluded.

Snake-bitten Blackhawks light the lamp Saturday

Snake-bitten Blackhawks light the lamp Saturday

Three unlikely heroes emerged in Calgary on Saturday night to help the Blackhawks find some footing near the end of their five-game road trip (currently 1-3-0) that wraps up Sunday in Winnipeg.

Blackhawks rookie center Kirby Dach hadn't scored a goal in six games; Alex DeBrincat had one marker in his last nine after finishing last season with 41; Alex Nylander had one goal in his past 17 contests.

The trio bounced back against the Flames to help the Hawks to an 8-4 victory.

Nylander scored twice, and DeBrincat and Dach each had a goal.

"It’s a learning process for us that [haven't] been through this," Nylander said after the game. "And we are lucky that we have these vets that are on our team that can help us and see that something like this in the season happens."

Related: Blackhawks' offense explodes in Calgary

Of all the Hawks who have gone cold this season, the most surprising was DeBrincat, who posted 41 goals last season and 28 as a rookie the year prior.

"I've been fighting with the puck a little bit too much," he said. "Even today, I didn't really play that well, but finally got rewarded."

Six points out of a playoff spot, having the three forwards off the schneid could be a big factor in the Hawks putting a streak together to keep their playoff hopes alive.

"Those guys, they have the ability to chip in for us offensively and if they can do that it's going to make a big difference for us," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said of the three. "Ultimately, it comes down to their work ethic away from the puck."

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews felt Dach, DeBrincat and Nylander gave the Hawks a much-needed lift on Saturday.

"For guys like that and the way they think, the way they play the game, their skillset, scoring goals gives you a ton of energy, it gives you a lift," Toews said. "It's nice to see them get a few and see a few pucks go in.

"I think even if you're just on the ice, you have nothing to do with the play, just to be around goals is infectious. So it's nice to see those guys make those plays as a result of their hard work and it's an incentive to keep doing the same thing."

Hopefully the goal infection spreads for the Hawks. Despite being six points out of the playoffs, Chicago has three games in hand on the Arizona Coyotes, who occupy the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

With 24 games remaining, scoring contributions will have to come from across the board for the Blackhawks to go on a successful run to secure a playoff spot.

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Andrew Ladd joins Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Andrew Ladd joins Blackhawks All-Decade Team

The Blackhawks got a big lift out of skilled and scrappy forward Andrew Ladd during his first three seasons with the Blackhawks. 

Ladd was selected at No. 4 overall in the 2004 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006 before coming to Chicago in a trade for Tuomo Ruutu on Feb. 26, 2008. 

In four seasons with the Blackhawks, Ladd displayed strength on both sides of the puck, recording 111 points and a +/- rating of +29 in 203 games.

In 19 games during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, Ladd had six points (three goals, three assists) and a +/- rating of +4.

Related: Versteeg joins Blackhawks All-Decade Team

After the Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, Ladd was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 2011 second-round draft pick in a salary cap move. 

Ladd was traded back to Chicago with Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison for Marko Dano and two draft picks on Feb. 25, 2016. He had 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 19 games in his final season with the Hawks. 

Following the 2015-16 season, he became a free agent and signed a seven-year contract with the New York Islanders.

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