If the Hawks weren’t playing one of the worst teams in the NHL on Friday night, their slowed intensity in the final 30 minutes might have cost them the game.
Toronto came into the game with one of the worst records in hockey and were starting a struggling goalie. The Blackhawks obviously knew they had a big advantage in depth and skill, and took the game to the Maple Leafs in the first period.
When the dust settled for the first intermission, Patrick Kane and John Madden had both scored goals and the Hawks had already thrown 20 shots on goal. The score was 2-0, and the game was as close as the teams’ records.
The second period started strong, with the Hawks continuing to dictate the pace of the game. Troy Brouwer redirected a Patrick Sharp shot into the net for a power play goal, and the Hawks were up 3-0 just over five minutes into the second period.
But just like the Calgary Flames did in October with their 5-0 lead, the Blackhawks felt that they had control of a struggling opponent and took their foot off the gas. The Hawks forgot that Phil Kessel showed up ready to play, and the Maple Leafs weren’t to be taken lightly.
The Hawks only put eight shots on goal in the second period, and a 40-foot rocket from Kessel took the teams to the dressing rooms still separated by two goals, with a 3-1 score.
As the final stanza began, the Hawks were flat. There was little hitting, less emotion, and almost no effort to win the puck in corners and the Leafs took advantage. Kessel cut the lead to 3-2 with his second goal of the game just five and a half minutes into the third, and the Hawks appeared to be on their heels.
The final 14 minutes were tough, physical hockey from both sides. Thanks to a substantial advantage in the circle, the Hawks were able to regain control of the puck and keep the Leafs out of the net to keep their lead through the final horn.
Friday night’s win was the sixth straight at home for the Hawks, the longest home winning streak since December 2001 – January 2002. The Hawks also extended their streak to four consecutive games with a power play goal, a unit that had struggled while Jonathan Toews was out with a concussion.
Toews continues to be an enormous difference for the offense, and it starts with his incredible ability to win faceoffs early this year. The Hawks’ 21-year old captain won 10 out of 15 faceoffs against Toronto, continuing a strong stretch during the homestand. Madden won 13 of his 16 faceoffs on Friday night as well.
When you put the 23 faceoff wins from Toews and Madden into the context of the Leafs only winning 25 as a team, you can see where the Hawks had an enormous advantage. The Hawks also dominated the takeaways (19-3), but didn’t get as many shots on goal in the final two periods as Toronto did; after putting 20 pucks on net in the first, the Hawks only ended up with 36 total shots for the game. Toronto ended the game with 31, 19 of which were in the second and third periods.
Brouwer had another exceptional game on Friday, scoring his fifth goal already this season in the second period and being credited with five hits. Luke Schenn also challenged Brouwer to a fight in that second period, and he as obliged with a loss as Brouwer appeared to land at least three or four quality punches before the zebras stepped in to save Schenn’s forehead and self esteem.
Also continuing a run of strong performances was Cristoabal Huet. The Hawks goalie stopped 29 of 31 shots on Friday (.935 save percentage) and did a great job of maintaining his composure through a number of heated rushes from Toronto in the second and third periods.
Duncan Keith was the Number One Star of the game with two assists, while Sharp and Brent Seabrook were also credited with one assist each.