Blackhawks

Marian Hossa proves he's still got it, nets game-winner for Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets

Marian Hossa proves he's still got it, nets game-winner for Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets

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."

Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

The biggest storyline of Blackhawks training camp 2.0 was Corey Crawford missing the first 12 days because he had tested positive for COVID-19. He showed up on the final practice day in Chicago, which was exactly one week from the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Blackhawks did everything they could to get him ready for Game 1, but you knew it would take him a while to get back into top form. And it has.

In the first three games against the Oilers, Crawford allowed 13 goals on 92 shots for a save percentage of .859 and had a minus-5.68 goals saved above average, according to Natural Stat Trick, which ranked dead last among all goaltenders. 

But when the Blackhawks needed him most in Game 4, Crawford delivered. 

The two-time Stanley Cup champion turned aside 41 of 43 shots for a save percentage of .953 in Friday’s 3-2 series-clinching win against the Oilers, including all 18 in the third period, a handful of which came from high-danger areas.

"He's a huge part of our team and he played real well today," Dominik Kubalik said. "I thought he was our best player."

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To take it a step further: Crawford stopped 16 of 18 shots from the slot and had nine saves from the inner slot, which is the third-most in a game by any goaltender this postseason, according to Sportlogiq. The Oilers had an expected goals for rate of 4.33 but scored only twice, which means Crawford saved the Blackhawks 2.33 goals.

It was a vintage performance between the pipes for No. 50.

"Obviously it wasn't the best scenario," Crawford said of having just one week to get ramped up for the qualifying round. "I would have liked to have had a few more weeks of practice and see more pucks coming into the series. But it is what it is. I think I felt way better each game, playing each game and just seeing different scenarios and situations. Once you get more of that, just the better you feel. Tonight was obviously better."

Despite turning in a terrific outing on Friday, Crawford admitted “there’s still some work to do” before he feels like in peak form. But if he gets there in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks could be a dangerous underdog team.

"I was able to kind of hide back there until I started feeling comfortable," Crawford said. "Still don't think I'm at the top of my game, but it was definitely better today."

Podcast: Blackhawks move on with 3-2 series-clinching win over the Oilers

Podcast: Blackhawks move on with 3-2 series-clinching win over the Oilers

It's been 5 years since the Hawks have won a playoff series and it feels so good. Host Pat Boyle is joined by Blackhawks analyst Steve Konroyd as they discuss the series-clinching Game 4 win over the Oilers, the importance of the win, and a look ahead to what's next for the Hawks.

(1:10) - Hawks were given a lottery ticket into the playoffs this year

(6:41) - Hawks still need to fix a few things

(10:00) - Jeremy Colliton tried 2 different lines with Kane in the series

(15:30) - The young players on the Hawks stepped up big this series

(18:48) - How do the Hawks match up against the Vegas Knights and Colorado Avalanche?

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Blackhawks news and analysis.