In their first game back after the all-star break, the Blackhawks came out of the gates strong with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Coyotes in a desert thriller. Now just three points back of Arizona for the second wild-card spot with two games at hand, the Blackhawks provided an injection of optimism for a playoff run in the second half. Here are my five takeaways from the action.
- There are so many former Blackhawks on the Coyotes.
First of all, I thought that this needed to be stated. Over the past decade we have seen some fan favorites, and valuable championship-caliber pieces, come and go through the Blackhawks organization. The Coyotes have been a regular trade partner of Mr. Bowman over the past few years, and now the Coyotes have a menagerie of former Hawks contributing in a big way. Nick Schmaltz leads the team in points, and it still feels wrong to see a warrior like Hjalmarsson wearing another logo. Raanta stood on his head, and Hinostroza’s speed is so valuable in the league today.
- Alex DeBrincat can’t buy a goal.
Last night DeBrincat recorded eight shots in 15:51 of ice time. His eight shots were the most he has had in a single game this season, and well above his season average of 2.8 per game. He had a couple of nice opportunities, including chance off of a beautiful no-look pass from Kirby Dach, but The Cat was never able to get one past Raanta and his goalless drought extended to four games. Eight shots a night is a lot to ask for, but if DeBrincat keeps getting pucks on net he shouldn’t be kept out of the goal column for much longer.
- Brandon Saad on the other hand…
The puck-luck that has been escaping DeBrincat must have made its way over to his teammate Brandon Saad. Saad’s first of the night was a short-side laser that snuck its way in over Raanta’s shoulder. After Raanta stopped Kane on a breakaway, some slick passing between 88 and 77 led to a wide-open 20 in front for his second goal of the night. If it was not for Raanta’s scorpion kick save-of-the-year candidate stop on Saad late in the third, then Blackhawks hats would have littered the ice in Glendale. After his two-goal performance last night, Saad now has four in his last four games.
- Both Goalies Stood Tall in the 3rd and OT.
I was extremely impressed by both Antti Raanta and Corey Crawford down the stretch in the third and in the overtime period. The game opened up in a big way, and both teams had a number of chances to take the lead, but both of the netminders stood tall when it mattered most. Raanta made a couple of huge stops on Brandon Saad late in the third, as well as denying a Kubalik breakaway in overtime. Crawford did his part as well, making a big stop on Taylor Hall after a nifty move by Conner Garland late in the third. This is a game that does not make it to a shootout without these two goalies playing at the level they were.
Last night gave me some real optimism about this team. Going into the night the hawks were four points behind Arizona with two games at hand. The team knew it was a big game as well as a tone-setter for the second half of the season. I loved the way the team competed for 65+ minutes. Even after giving up a two-goal lead, they still found a way to generate scoring chances as the defense tired, and Corey Crawford was unsolvable down the stretch. Even though they surrendered a point to Arizona, now they are only three points back with two games at hand. This team has a real shot at making the playoffs if they can find ways to win like they did last night. Regardless, the second half of the season is off to a good start. Let’s see if they can keep the momentum going.