Coach Joel Quenneville liked how the Blackhawks kept the Florida Panthers’ shot total low on Thursday, although he added, “we don’t expect too many nights like [Thursday] night.”
But on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Blackhawks kind of had another night like that. And it helped them gain a point before their captain helped them gain another.
Corey Crawford stopped all 21 shots he faced and Jonathan Toews scored the winner in overtime as the Blackhawks beat the Lightning 1-0 on Saturday night. The Blackhawks have won three in a row heading into Monday night’s game against Anaheim, the team they eliminated in the Western Conference Final last spring.
In their second game without Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks once again put defense first. As Quenneville said, the Blackhawks didn’t want to change their approach in Keith’s absence, and defense has always been a priority. It may be even more so now, and the Blackhawks have played accordingly.
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The Lightning, who were averaging 3.4 goals per game entering this one, finished this night the same way they did Game 6 in June: held scoreless.
“I think we caught a couple breaks, too, tonight,” said Crawford, who recorded his first shutout of this season and 13th of his career. “They made a few good plays where it was off the post. A couple good bounces, fortunate bounces, but you get those some nights. Some nights they go our way. The other night they didn’t go our way on a goal. We played pretty solid against them. Both teams match up with their speed and skill game.”
Kristers Gudlevskis, the man who stopped 55 of 57 shots for Latvia against Team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics, stopped 31 of 32 against the Blackhawks. Gudlevskis, recalled by Tampa on Friday, denied the Blackhawks on several great scoring opportunities.
Still, it was another 17-seconds moment for the Blackhawks when Toews scored at that point of the overtime.
“Yeah, it could go either way. Sometimes you just need one chance and that’s what happens,” Toews said. “Against a team like that, knowing the skill they have, you’re trying to get the puck as quick as you can. After that, if not, you’re trying to be on the prudent side, making sure you don’t give up anything too crazy against because we all know what they can do with the puck. It ended up going our way there.”
The Blackhawks are still putting defense first, even while their top defenseman recuperates from right-knee surgery. It’s worked for them for several seasons now. It worked for them in Game 6 against the Lightning. It worked again vs. Tampa Bay on Saturday.
“I don’t think the pace was quite Stanley Cup Final worthy but we knew what we had to do against that team,” Toews said. “They played last night, we wanted to wear them down, find our chances late in the game. We showed the type of game we’re looking for, given our new look, new group this year. That was a patient game we were looking for against a skilled team and we waited for our bounces. If it takes one goal, we’ll win that way. But I think we worked hard on the offensive side of the puck and finally got one that made the difference.”