With two goals within the first ten minutes of the game by Richard Panik and Artemi Panarin, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Tuesday night. The Hawks were of course sans Jonathan Toews, who served his one game suspension in this contest for skipping the All Star game due to illness, but they were still able to come away with the win.
The story of this one had to be the quick start and overall consistency and pace with which Chicago played. After continually coming on the losing end in the shots department in the last few games before the break, the Hawks outshot Colorado to a tee of a decisive 42-23. As mentioned, they scored two quick goals and measurably weathered any storm the Avalanche tried to maintain for the most part. Much was made of how fatigued the Hawks may have been a week ago, and this game definitely offered credibility to that theory. That fact is all the more impressive considering that the Avalanche are a very fast team and that the game was played in high altitude.
Starting things off in the first period, newly recalled Viktor Svedberg made his return to the NHL lineup and immediately made an impact. A strong shot from the point by Svedberg allowed for a perfect pick-up by Panik right on the doorstep to make it 1-0 for the road team.
As has been noted all year, the Hawks dominant second line continued their torrid play and they quite frankly showed off on the second Chicago goal four minutes later. Kane offered a sick behind the back and behind the boards pass from the blue line to Panarin to set up the rookie for a slick move to bury a backhander making it 2-0.
Even with a Gabriel Landeskog goal a little under three minutes later that that was set up by an excellent pass from Erik Johnson to cut Chicago's lead to 2-1, Panarin's goal would ultimately prove to be the game winner.
Of course with Toews's absence, someone had to step into the coveted 1st line center role, and sophomore phenom Teuvo Teravainen proved more than capable in the role playing alongside Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa (who also made an appearance on the third line tonight). Teravainen was a playmaking terror all night, setting up Andrew Shaw and whoever was on his line with more than a few great chances.
He of course was also effectively very defensively responsible, which is where Toews would be considered to be missed most. Teravainen more than held his own and even took a puck to the face, something those on the first line have come to be used to this season.
Everything not withstanding, the Blackhawks did have to maintain a Colorado push early in the 3rd period as well as near the end. It really wasn't anything to be too concerned about though considering the continual greatness of the now rested Corey Crawford along with much more sound defensive play in front, as a combination of the two was able to keep the two points for the good guys, with the 2-1 win.
Now some notes:
Tonight's performance, while not inherently transcendent, was certainly a great indicator of how far Teuvo has come. Considering all of the responsibilities Toews normally has, for the sophomore to step onto the top line and have the Hawks not miss a beat, shows me how far he's come. Teuvo by all effective measure is obviously the Hawks top young player not named Artemi Panarin. The only difference between Panarin and Teravainen is that Panarin had a few seasons of seasoning in the KHL, Teravainen still has plenty of room to grow into the superstar we all expect him to be and boy did he showcase that more of that growth tonight. While there weren't any splash plays like a goal, Teravainen was all over the ice on both ends, and that speaks volumes as to the role he may play in future games, not even seasons. For everyone saying he can't play center, albeit with only an addition to a small sample size, he proved again tonight that he can play both wing and center at a high level.
As was hinted when the Hawks originally acquired Richard Panik, he was definitely going to get a shot on the top line, it was just a matter of when. His goal tonight wasn't inherently special, but he was in the right place at the right time to slot the puck in and kept his feet moving, which is really all that the Hawks have been asking of that 1st line wing this season. He also had a high in ice time to this point with the Hawks at 13:35, so it looks like he is earning Q's trust back after oversleeping and missing a morning skate. After all, that's what Andrew Shaw's been doing to have all the success he's had in the past month or so. As long as Panik's alarm wakes up, you'll likely see him next to Toews and Hossa sometime soon.
Vice Grip Central
It's become ever the more clear that the Central Division wasn't the great gauntlet everyone expected it to be at the start of the year. That fact has been solidified as the top three teams in the Hawks, Stars, and Blues respectively, are separated by a total of just six points. The drop off from Chicago to just the 4th place team in Colorado is 15 points, demonstrating the gap of the class of the division from the pack. This Hawks squad certainly wants and needs some measure of home ice considering the youth being displayed on the ice, and it looks like they really only have to worry about Dallas and St. Louis, who also both won tonight to keep pace. In the past, Chicago may have coasted in this final run of the season, but one more point binge and long win streak in the next few weeks or so wouldn't hurt considering the standings.
Chicago now looks to start a new winning streak after putting this one on the belt with two crucial road contests coming up against Arizona and Dallas later in the week. The Hawks maintain first place in the Central and Western Conference with 72 points with the victory.
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer and contributor for Second City Hockey and No Coast Bias. He is currently the sports editor at Aurora University. You can follow him on Twitter @ZigZags82.