After 55 minutes of rather dismal hockey, the Blackhawks star players came to life in the final five minutes Wednesday night, resulting in two goals that gave them a 4-3 road win over the Ducks in Anaheim. Let’s check some trends:
Saad is on pace for about 28 goals and 50 points this season, numbers that dwarf the 18 and 35, respectively, that he posted in 2017-18. But Saad just looks better this season, and the play he made to set up Kane’s game-winner is indicative of someone playing with confidence.
Saad caught a pass on his backhand while skating up the ice, skated right through Anaheim defender Hampus Lindholm and then moved the puck to Kane. None of those things were easy to do. But Saad is more than capable, when he’s playing with confidence.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane
These two have been fixtures in the “up” portion all season long, but there’s no reason to remove them after Wednesday. With the Hawks on the verge of a brutal loss that might’ve put a dagger in their already slim playoff hopes, Toews and Kane emerged. Toews circled the Anaheim zone and then threaded a perfect pass to Alex DeBrincat for the game-tying goal with 4:54 remaining. Then Kane finished off the play referenced above with 16 seconds remaining to seal the win. When Chicago has needed its star players, Toews and Kane have delivered more often than not.
First off, it’s just good to see No. 50 back in the Blackhawks net. And to make things better, he looked like his old self at times during the game. It wasn’t a perfect night for Crawford, who fanned on a poke check before Anaheim’s second goal and then turned the puck over in his own end for the third. But he made enough saves to keep Chicago within contention, allowing the Hawks a chance to steal the win at the end. The end of that sentence feels like it’s been Crawford’s standard performance for the last three seasons.
While the Blackhawks got the two points they needed Wednesday, the Avalanche defeated the Canucks in a shootout, giving Colorado two points in the standings and awarding a third to Vancouver. That left the Canucks tied with the Hawks at 63 points in 64 games, while Colorado and the Wild are tied in the two wild card spots with 68 points apiece in 64 games. Those three-point games are why Chicago faces a steep climb to overcome that five-point gap in its 18 remaining games.
The final 4:46 of the five-minute power play
DeBrincat’s first goal of the game came 14 seconds into the five-minute power play Chicago received after Rickard Rakell’s major penalty for boarding Drake Caggiula, who was diagnosed with a concussion. The rest of the power play was a nightmare. Devin Shore scored a shorthanded goal and the Hawks rarely sustained possession in the Anaheim zone. That lackluster man advantage, followed by a similarly dismal power play later in the second, sucked all the life out of the Hawks and nearly cost them the game — something that hasn’t happened often lately.
Previously insurmountable deficits
Remember earlier in the season when the Hawks had an 11-game streak of allowing the first goal? Remember how those initial goals seemed to spell the inevitable defeat — Chicago lost 10 of those games — that was waiting at the end of 60 minutes?
That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
The Hawks might have found their fight again, the one that was missing during the 2018 calendar year. Falling behind no longer feels like a death sentence for this team, because Toews, Kane, Saad, DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and others can bring them back. For those who’ve maintained an anti-tanking stance, developments like this are the reason why: the positives that can still be gleaned from a season without Stanley Cup contention. It could all be fool’s gold, of course. There’s no tangible way to measure a team’s resiliency. But there’s a different feel with this team during the last month, that being down doesn’t mean they’re also out. And if that carries over into next season, coupled with an improved defense, maybe these late goals aren’t required to escape with wins. Perhaps they’re the insurance tallies in a two- or three-goal win as the Blackhawks embark on a steady upward trajectory.