The Chicago Blackhawks extended their winning streak to eight games tonight in front of a near-sellout crowd at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre with a 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tonight’s win solidifies the Blackhawks 4th place position in the Western Conference and has them knocking on the door of the San Jose Sharks for the third place position. With San Jose coming to town later next week, it will certainly be interesting to see how each team plays through the week.
Both Toronto and Chicago came out strong tonight with a fast paced game that had Chicago scoring quickly in the first period with forwards Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik both scoring at 1:10 and 4:13 respectively. Later in the period a series of penalties against Toronto gave Chicago a 5 on 3 power play, yet they were unable to capitalize. With 4:00 left in the first team captain Jonathan Toews scored for the finally tally of the period with assists by Hossa and Patrick Kane.
The second period was much more of the same with Chicago clearly in command of the game with goaltender Corey Crawford making some incredible saves and frustrating the Maple Leafs’ offense stopping everything that was shot his way. At 7:28 Forward Joffrey Lupul put Toronto on the board with a shot from just inside the blue line that got past Crawford. Just over three minutes later Chicago responded with Viktor Stalberg find the back of the net pushing Chicago’s lead to 4 to 1 halfway through the second period.
The Blackhawks ended the second with another puck past downtrodden Toronto goaltender James Reimer. Brian Bickell scored Chicago’s fifth goal while perfectly positioned to take advantage of a rebound off of a shot on goal by Troy Brouwer. The Hawks were clearly in charge going into the third period yet, as it has been evident in the past few games, Chicago found their feet and kept their foot on the gas pedal going into the final period. Earlier in the season, Chicago was quick out of the gate yet once they had commanding leads, they backed off or got complacent allowing their opponents to put up more numbers than they should have thus putting more than just a few games in jeopardy.
The third period started with a change in goal for Toronto as head coach Ron Wilson sat Calder Cup contender James Reimer putting in back-up goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere for the remainder of the game. Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovski was denied on a penalty shot by Crawford which only added to Chicago resolve going into the latter part of the period. Toronto kept coming, scoring another goal which appeared to bounce off of Chicago forward Brent Seabrook and past Crawford. Toronto’s Colby Armstrong was credited with the goal. With just under one minute left in the game, Toronto added their third goal of the night as Luke Schenn scored a wrist shot past Crawford’s stick hand.
While both teams are in the hunt for playoff positions in their respective conferences, Chicago had the definitive edge in this fast-paced, hard-hitting battle. Both teams fought it out to the bitter end with Chicago coming out on top thanks to some serious hustle in the neutral zone and a no-surrender attitude that has been building over the past few weeks. Corey Crawford made the argument for his own bid for the Calder Cup before a Hockey Night in Canada TV crowd. Crawford has been outperforming himself night after night and apparently those outside of Chicago have begun to take notice as well.
The only concern from tonight’s game was a minor injury to the right hand index finger of defenseman Duncan Keith. He did not go into the locker room but did continually ice his finger after injuring it about half way through the third period. He remained on the bench and did not return to the game. The fact that he wasn’t taken for x-rays and the like is a good sign and considering how tough Keith is, we should expect to see him on the ice Tuesday as the Blackhawks travel to Florida to take on the Eastern Conference’s 13th place Panthers.
A few months ago there was concern among the Blackhawk faithful as they seemed to be out of synch and somewhat disjointed. Team cohesion seems to have taken place over the past few weeks and they couldn’t have picked a better time to begin their crescendo into playoff season. Depending on the outcome of the San Jose Sharks v. Dallas Stars game later tonight, the Blackhawks could be pounding instead of knocking on that 3rd place door in the Western Conference before they face the Panthers on Tuesday.