Marian Hossa's struggles last season were evident. Sure, the trademark defense was still there, but the offense wasn't. To some teammates, he wasn't losing anything, he was just snake bit. Regardless, one wondered how much Hossa had left and if he could rebound this season.
Apparently, he has plenty left.
Hossa's 26th goal of the season proved to be the game winner, and Corey Crawford stopped 32 of 33 shots in the victory as the Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets by a 3-1 score on Friday. The Blackhawks have won two in a row and re-established a nine-point lead over the Minnesota Wild.
It was another milestone-heavy night for the Blackhawks. The team won its 50th game of the season, Patrick Kane recorded three assists to hit 750 career points, and Jonathan Toews collected his 350th career assist.
Artemi Panarin scored two goals; he has four goals in his last three games.
For Hossa, a long offseason of rest helped. So does playing with a good crop of rookies, who keep Hossa motivated.
"The young guys just playing around me keep me going," Hossa said. "It's a fast game out there, and I try to skate as hard as they do. And it's working so far."
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Much like they did against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Blackhawks got an early lead in this one. They just did it a lot quicker. Panarin gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 edge just 32 seconds into the game — and four seconds into their first power play. Nick Foligno tied it with a 4-on-4 goal later in the period. But just 22 seconds after that Hossa, taking the pass from Kane, put the Blackhawks back up, 2-1.
Panarin added his second goal of the night, an empty-net effort, with 43.9 seconds remaining in regulation.
Crawford did the rest. Coming off a tough Florida game — though he shouldn't shoulder the blame for all of that — Crawford's allowed two goals in his last two starts. He was especially good in the third period, when the Blue Jackets outshot the Blackhawks 14-7.
"He was excellent tonight, very sharp, very quick," coach Joel Quenneville said of Crawford. "They go to the net hard, lot of traffic, lot of bodies. He was finding the puck and was square to the next shot as well. He looked very alert around the net tonight."
The Blackhawks are back to playing like a confident group. The same goes for Hossa. Maybe he was snake-bit last season. Whatever the problem, it's definitely not affecting him anymore.
"It definitely gives you more confidence," Hossa said of his improved numbers. "I knew I had it in me after last year. To not be able to put the puck in (last year) even though I had as many chances, maybe, as this year, but it didn't go in. It's nice to prove to myself, that you still got it."