What a difference 24 hours can make!
Just look back at where the Blackhawks were in the Western Conference standings yesterday, and where they are after the completion of games on Thursday night. Here are the critical matchups impacted the Hawks:
- Chicago 3 – Nashville 0
- Dallas 4 – Detroit 1
- Los Angeles 4 – Minnesota 2
The win not only pushes the Blackhawks into a five-way tie for sixth place in the West, but also jumps them past Nashville into second place in the Central Division.
What has clearly been the reason for the Blackhawks jumping into the mix has been the exceptional play of Corey Crawford between the pipes.
On Thursday night, Crawford earned his third shutout of the season, stopping all 31 shots from the Predators. He now trails only Boston’s Tim Thomas (1.99) in goals against average on the season with a strong 2.11 average this year. His .923 save percentage now ranks sixth in the NHL as well.
Crawford received help from the blue line in the win, with Duncan Keith turning in arguably his best performance of the season. Rarely did the Preds get a shot off while he was on the ice; he did a great job of breaking up shooting lanes and deflecting shots away from the net. Though Keith was credited with just four blocked shots, he took at least another half dozen off the board with a strong poke check.
Maybe the best part of the dominant effort was the ice time from the Hawks’ defensemen. Keith and Brent Seabrook barely broke 22 minutes each, while Jordan Hendry stepped up to skate over 18 minutes. Rookie Nick Leddy’s minutes were down to 14:52, and Brian Campbell ended up leading the team at 24:56 on the night.
The one concern from the game was the departure of Niklas Hjalmarsson. He appeared to take a shot to the hand around the 10 minute mark in the third period and did not return to the game. Hjalmarsson only skated 17:34 in the game.
Up front, Jonathan Toews continued his ridiculous streak after the All Star Break with an assists on Tomas Kopecky’s first period goal. He now has 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 11 games in February, and has been held without a point in only three of his last 15 games.
Meanwhile Patrick Sharp’s empty net goal late in the third continued his strong play. His 31 goals are now just five short of his previous career high (set in 2007-08), and his 54 points are just 12 short of his career best from last year.