Only the Chicago Blackhawks could change the entire perception of their club over the span of one game.
It's getting more and more difficult to find a counterargument for those who believe that the Blackhawks play to the level of their opponent. That is what has made recent games against teams like Philadelphia and Columbus so frustrating, but it also tends to make a game like Monday night's tilt with the Los Angeles Kings so much more enjoyable. The Hawks, for the first time in a couple of weeks, brought their best in a rematch of Western Conference Finals and it paid off in a big way as they won their second in a row.
This was the type of game that you could certainly see the Blackhawks getting up for, even with the fact that they played a tough one in Winnipeg the night before. They came out firing, with only Jonathan Quick preventing this from being a true blowout, as the Hawks outplayed the Kings in nearly every way possible.
The Blackhawks got on the board early thanks to Brandon Saad, who used his speed to get in the Kings' zone, possessed the puck as he does, and shot the puck off the skate of Bryan Bickell for the early 1-0 edge. While the Kings would even things up on a Jake Muzzin goal, which was a rough one to give up by Scott Darling, it would represent one of the only positives for the road team in this one.
Despite going into the first intermission even at one, there were a number of positives for the Blackhawks. They played a strong possession period and had the edge in Corsi at 25-13. They limited the turnovers and forwards played strong defense in their own end. All of these things were themes throughout the night.
Andrej Sekera took a bad penalty in the first minute of the second period, taking down Kris Versteeg (who played a better game than we've come to expect from him recently) after the whistle. That opened things up for Duncan Keith to tally on the power play, courtesy of Andrew Shaw's net front presence (more on that later). Just over a minute later, Niklas Hjalmarsson scored his third goal of the year, just after Patrick Sharp failed to score on a gorgeous chance in front of the net.
Even with the Hawks going a long stretch after those two quick strikes without scoring, they had no problem generating chances against Jonathan Quick. They fired 29 shots on net in the first two periods against a Kings team that only allows 25 shots per game. They went on to finish the game with a 40-32 edge in the shot department.
Marian Hossa put this one on ice with a steal of the puck from Matt Greene and subsequent unassisted score just under Quick's left arm. Quick probably should have had it, but when you're up against the God-like force that is Marian Hossa, few are going to fault you.
Overall, this has to completely shift the mentality that the Hawks and their fans had just a few games ago. Coming out of that stretch against Carolina, Philly, and Columbus, this looked like a team that was set to be one-and-done in the postseason. Yet, they come out against a team that is battling for their playoff lives, which is still a very strong team despite that, and took them to task for the better part of 60 minutes. It's even more impressive when you consider the game in Winnipeg barely 24 hours ago.
- Brandon Saad is incredible.
- Johnny Oduya was outstanding. Whether it's him being healthy again or whatever else it could be, he's been fantastic in this last stretch. He was physical and generated some offensive opportunities, all while playing well in his own end. Given the type of forecheck the Kings bring to the table, Oduya's game could have been a concern. It wasn't.
- Andrew Shaw is playing so well, I can't even say bad things about him for the time being. He's doing the dirty work, and it's helping the Hawks, especially on the power play.
- Scott Darling gave up a rough one in the first, but played very well.
- Teuvo Teravainen. Oh my, Teuvo. He's not backing down from anyone. He didn't back down physically on Sunday against the Jets, and didn't against the Kings either. He had eight shots in 13:29 of ice time. He's going to be special. Fourth line looked excellent.
- Niklas Hjalmarsson got on the score sheet with a rare goal tonight, but he does so many things that go unnoticed in the box score. Let's just take a minute to appreciate everything he brings to the mix.
Three Stars of the Night
3. Niklas Hjalmarsson
Aside from his incredible defensive play, which has always gone under the radar for those outside of Chicago, Hjalmarsson generated a bit of offense tonight as well. His goal that made it 3-1 really helped the Hawks to run away with this one. He led the team with a plus-3 rating, along with Johnny Oduya, and stifled the Kings offense, preventing it from becoming anything resembling an offensive attack.
2. Teuvo Teravainen
The fourth line of Teuvo, Marcus Kruger, and Andrew Desjardins looked outstanding throughout the night, generating consistent offensive pressure and combining for 10 shots. Eight of those came from Teravainen, who looked outstanding yet again. He was unable to cash in on his best chance of the night, which came on a breakaway, but he's going to start finding the stat sheet consistently. He's getting there.
1. Johnny Oduya
Give Oduya credit. He's had a really rough year for the most part, but he's put it together of late, and played perhaps his best game of the season on Monday night. In addition to his plus-3 rating, Oduya added three hits and four blocked shots, as well as a takeaway. You can't help but feel a lot better about the Chicago blue line (even with the presence of Michal Rozsival) if Oduya's playing at this level.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.