The Blackhawks have been struggling, so coach Joel Quenneville did what he does: threw the lines in a blender.
Chicago opened the game with Jonathan Toews between Ryan Hartman and Richard Panik, while Tanner Kero moved between Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa. After skating seven defensemen in the last game, Chicago returned to a 12-forward lineup with Andrew Desjardins on a line with Nick Schmaltz and Dennis Rasmussen.
The new lines worked. Especially for three young Blackhawks – and the ancient warrior.
Only 2:38 into the first period, Schmaltz found a loose puck and put home the second goal of his NHL career.
Four minutes later, Panik got caught hooking Matt Nieto and went to the box. On the power play, Matt Duchene tipped a Nathan MacKinnon past Corey Crawford to tie the game at one.
After a strong stretch of penalty kill work in December, the Hawks’ allowed a power play goal for a second consecutive game.
Chicago may have had the bulk of the puck possession and the noise from the crowd in the first period, and Brent Seabrook gave the Blackhawks a lead at 12:50 into the first.
The opening 20 minutes ended with Chicago out-shooting Colorado 11-10, but Toews lost all six of his faceoffs and Kane – after a career-high 12 shots against Minnesota – had zero shots on net. Schmaltz, however, picked up an assist on the Seabrook goal to give him a two-point first period.
Early in the second a lazy play by Mikko Rantanen gave the Blackhawks a power play, but MacKinnon who got the first good chance short-handed after a Duncan Keith turnover leaving his own zone. After a solid first period, Schmaltz got time on the second power play unit.
Unfortunately, the advantage ended without the Hawks scoring – and prematurely. Seabrook hooked MacKinnon with three seconds left in the Hawks’ power play, giving Colorado their second power play after a brief 4-on-4 moment. The Blackhawks were able to kill this penalty.
Nine minutes into the second, MacKinnon’s strong game continued as he found Blake Comeau through traffic. Comeau rifled a shot past Crawford to tie the game at two.
Only 63 seconds later, Seabrook failed to execute a long pass to Panik and the Avs turned the tables quickly on the Hawks. Gabriel Lendeskog found Nieto and the Blackhawks were suddenly losing 3-2.
That lead didn’t last, though. Tanner Kero made a deposit from the doorstep 19 seconds after Nieto’s goal to tie the game at three.
Hossa picked up an assist on Kero’s second goal of the season, the 600th helper of his Hall of Fame career.
This time the score would remain tied for more than three minutes, but Duchene broke the tie with a burst of speed. Duchene had been credited with only one assist and two goals in 11 games coming to Tuesday night, but scored twice in under 35 minutes against the Blackhawks.
When the dust settled at the end of the second period, the box score showed Colorado scoring three times in only eight shots on goal. The Blackhawks scored once in the period, but only managed four shots on Semyon Varlamov in 20 minutes.
Kero lost all seven of his faceoffs in the opening 40 minutes, but Toews rebounded to win four of seven in the second period. Artem Anisimov won five of 13 draws to… lead… the Hawks. And Artemi Panarin’s one shot was the only puck put on net by the Hawks second line through two periods.
Five minutes into the third period, the Hawks’ new-look third line got Chicago back on the board. This time, Hinostroza exploded up the ice and beat Varlamov for his fifth of the season.
Three minutes later, Hinostroza decided it was his turn to break a tie game. Kero set him up with a gorgeous feed and the Blackhawks led 5-4 after goals on consecutive shifts by Hinostroza, who now has six on the season.
The Hawks hung on to the lead into the final minute, and Colorado pulled Varlamov.
Toews – desperate, struggling, frustrated Jonathan Toews – got the puck in the offensive zone with a wide open empty cage in front of him.
And passed to Kero, who scored for a second time in the game to make the final score 6-4 in favor of the Hawks.
There may not be a better example of Toews’ unselfish leadership this season than his assist on Kero’s goal on Tuesday night.
Let’s review the offense from the win in Denver:
- Kero: two goals, one assist
- Hinostroza: two goals
- Hossa: three assists
- Schmaltz: one goal, one assist
Rasmussen led the Hawks with three takeaways and won four of seven faceoffs. Toews finished winning seven of 16 faceoffs; remember, he lost all six in the first period. Trevor van Riemsdyk was credited with a team-high four blocked shots and also had an assist. And Hinostroza had a game-high five shots on net.
The Blackhawks scored six times, and the only line left intact – Panarin-Anisimov-Kane – was held to three combined shots on net.
Crawford finished with only 19 saves as the Blackhawks shut down the Avs, allowing only five shots on net in the third period after the second period blitz. Varlamov takes the loss after allowing five goals against 26 shots.