OK, so it took 61 seconds for Brian Campbell to score what turned out to be the game-winning goal on Thursday night. It was clear in that first minute, though, that the Blackhawks that showed up to play were the hungry Hawks with the best record in hockey, not the flat group of kids that had lost their previous two games. An emphatic 3-0 win was a good way to leave home on a nearly-three-week road trip.
Cristobal Huet bounced back from a mediocre third period in Minnesota to play very well, including a key save early in the second period when the puck bounced over Niklas Hjalmarsson’s stick and Raffi Torres got a clean look. Of Huet’s 24 saves, though, only a handful were on tough shots as the Hawks defense was smothering and again created quality chances for the offense in the other end.
The defensemen weren’t only the story in the Hawks’ defensive zone, though. Campbell and Duncan Keith scored two of the Hawks’ three goals, and Hjalmarsson was named the Number Two Star of the game after a statistically quiet performance that was exceptional to watch live. Hjalmarsson was credited with one assist, two hits, and four blocked shots in the game, but his stick work in the corners and pass prevention was fantastic. At only 22-years old, it’s becoming more clear with each game that what Scotty Bowman saw in Hammer when he referred to him as “a young Niky Lindstrom” before the season started might be enormous, but appropriate, praise.
Kris Versteeg has two assists, extending his career-best points streak to nine game. Keith’s goal was his 10th, and gives him 43 points for the season. Considering Keith’s career highs are 12 goals and 44 points, both set last year, he’s on an incredible pace to shatter his personal bests in the NHL and certainly challenge for the Norris Trophy.
The Hawks also skated through their checks well. Clearly the best hit of the night was in the first period, when Troy Brouwer crushed Columbus superstar Rick Nash into the boards. Hjalmarsson and Jordan Hendry also had good, hard hits later in the night, but Brouwer’s hit on the Jacket’s best player after an early goal set the tempo for the night.
The Hawks third goal was scored by Dustin Byfuglien, who had a good night as well. It was Big Buff’s first goal since Dec. 26, but he had eight assists in an eight game stretch since then and has quietly crept up to 23 points now on the season.
The Blue Jackets get another crack at the Blackhawks in Columbus on Saturday night, beginning an eight-game road trip that will keep the Hawks out of the United Center until Feb. 3. Last night was the Hawks’ last chance for almost two weeks to perform for their home audience, and they put on a great show.