Toews, Blackhawks close 2015 on high note with overtime win over Avs


Toews, Blackhawks close 2015 on high note with overtime win over Avs

By Michael Kelly

Special contributor for

DENVER – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are difficult to stop individually. When the Chicago Blackhawks’ pair are on the ice together, they are nearly impossible to contain.

The duo proved it again Thursday night and helped the Blackhawks to a sweep of their two-game road trip.

Kane had a goal and two assists, including one on Toews' game-winner at 3:29 of overtime, and Chicago beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-3.

Artem Anisimov and Andrew Desjardins also had goals, and Scott Darling stopped 27 shots for the Blackhawks, who snapped a four-game losing streak to the Avalanche.

“We needed that one,” Toews said. “That team plays really well here. We didn’t have the effort we needed at home against Colorado so we returned the favor and got a big one tonight.”

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Toews got the game winner when he took a pass from Kane in front of Semyon Varlamov and roofed a shot. It was his fourth overtime goal of the season and 13th overall.

“He made a great play on the goal tonight,” Kane said. “That (defenseman) slid up with me I just slid it down to him, he made a great play being patient with it and getting it upstairs.”

The Blackhawks finally solved Varlamov, who was 8-0 in his last nine games against Chicago.

The Blackhawks had chances to expand their 3-2 lead early in the third but couldn’t capitalize. Varlamov made a diving blocker save on Phillip Danault early in the period. The Avalanche also killed off two power plays in the frame.

Chicago finished 2-for-6 on the power play.

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Colorado tied it after the second kill when defenseman Erik Johnson skated into the zone with the puck and beat Darling through the legs with a shot from the right circle.

“They get back in the game 3-3, and I didn’t have a comfortable feeling so it’s nice to get that one off our back and maybe have a little more confidence going down the end with this team,” coach Joel Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks were swarming in the second, outshooting Colorado 17-5. They connected early when Desjardins tipped in a pass from Teuvo Teravainen at 2:07 for his fourth goal of the season. Kane gave Chicago a 3-1 lead with a power-play goal at 4:20 of the second. It was his team-leading 23rd of the season.

The Avalanche didn’t have many chances in the second but scored on one of them when Cody McLeod beat Darling with a shot from the slot at 11:32.

The start of the game had a familiar feel for the Blackhawks. Colorado took a 1-0 lead just 4:04 in when Carl Soderberg scored a power-play goal off a nice feed from Alex Tanguay.

The Blackhawks had chances but couldn’t solve Varlamov until late in the first. Anisimov tied it on a great pass from the slot by Kane at 18:32 and that seemed to energize Chicago.

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Saad's breakout game

After turning in one of his best efforts of the season on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks rewarded Saad with a promotion to the top-six again. And he took advantage of that opportunity.

In the first period alone, Saad recorded four shots on goal, scored his first of the season on the power play, drew a penalty and had a takeaway in 7:42 of ice time, which led all forwards. He finished with nine shot attempts (a season-high seven on goal) and 18:56 of ice time.

On his power-play goal, Saad battled for position in front of the net, called for the puck and scored on his second effort. He did all the right things and got rewarded, including on the empty-netter that sealed the victory.

"I've had some chances, especially as of late," Saad said. "But it's definitely nice for them to get in and get a win on top of that."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "He was excellent tonight. ... I thought he had great speed all over the ice, had the puck way more. We’re happy for him. Big factor in the win."

2. Erik Gustafsson's slap-pass becoming a thing

For the second time this season, Gustafsson contributed to a game-winning goal that involved a fake shot and slap-pass from the point. Patrick Kane was the recipient of the cross-ice pass and buried home the one-timer from the right faceoff circle

"I can’t score by myself, so it’s better to pass it," Gustafsson joked. "No, I know Kaner is out there. He’s always getting open when someone else has the puck so it’s easy to find him and there was one guy in front of me so I wanted to pass it."

3. Blackhawks cut down on high-danger chances

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks allowed 25 high-danger chances at even strength. It put them at the very bottom of the league for most on average per game, ironically falling below Anaheim.

Through two periods on Tuesday, the Blackhawks allowed zero and only five at 5-on-5 for the entire game. Certainly a 180 from two nights ago, and an area they will continue to build upon.

"We just took away those quality chances," said Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and picked up his first win at home since Dec. 17, 2017. "I don't think they really had too many where they had time in front of the net to really think about where they wanted to shoot and our guys were on the right away in the middle of the ice and that'll give you a great chance to win a hockey game."

4. Special teams battle

There were a total of 20 penalty minutes (10 for Anaheim, 10 for Chicago), which meant lots of power play opportunities and not as much even-strength time.

The Blackhawks had four of them in the first period, and converted on the second try when Saad scored his first of the season. The penalty killed went 4-for-4, allowing a combined eight combined shots on goal but limiting the quality chances.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."