CHICAGO – Neither team had its superstar, but the Chicago Blackhawks managed to cap a busy day in the Windy City with a big victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.
Despite playing without captain and top-line center Jonathan Toews, who's day-to-day with an upper-body injury, the Blackhawks won their fourth straight game by downing the red-hot Red Wings 2-1 at the United Center.
Chicago rookie forward Jimmy Hayes led the way with a goal and an assist, while Marcus Kruger scored the game-winning goal early in the third period by putting home a rebound of Hayes' wraparound attempt.
Chicago (33-21-7) also outhit the Red Wings 21-17, which was their second straight game finishing with more hits than their opponent, of note only because it has happened so rarely this season.
"I thought we checked well," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had an ordinary first period, but I thought we stayed with it, kind of comparable to our game against St. Louis [on Sunday]. We had a purpose to our team game."
The beneficiary was Hawks goalie Corey Crawford, who didn't have to face many onslaughts and continued his recent string of strong play. Crawford earned his fourth straight win by making 31 saves – including 27 straight after Detroit's Valtteri Filppula put the Red Wings up 1-0 just 2:22 into the game.
"Corey was rock-solid," Quenneville said. "I thought he was big, strong, controlled rebounds. They put a lot of bodies and traffic at the net. They test you on almost every shift and I thought he was excellent."
Crawford's save with less than a minute left off Niklas Kronwall's redirect of a point blast was arguably his biggest of the game – sealing the victory and a big two points.
Detroit, meanwhile, also played without its star center – Pavel Datsyuk – who had minor knee surgery on Tuesday morning and is expected to be out for two to three weeks. Without their Russian dynamo controlling the puck, the Red Wings (41-18-2) suffered offensively. Coach Mike Babcock, however, wasn't ready to blame it on his star's absence.
"Today had nothing to do with no Pavel," Babcock said. "We didn't play. If you don't play, you're not going to win. That's the toughest effort we've had in a long time. We've lost games on the road when we were better than that."
Detroit also pulled off a trade on Tuesday to add defenseman Kyle Quincey in a three-team deal. The story of the night for the Wings, however, was the guy in net.
Starting goalie Jimmy Howard took another tough loss in this building – he also dropped a 3-2 decision on Dec. 30 here – but looked razor sharp in his first action in almost three full weeks. Howard, who broke his right index finger on Feb. 2 in Vancouver, made 27 saves – many of them against odd-man rushes and breakaways.
He was beaten only twice and both were on rebounds with traffic in front.
"I felt good," Howard said. "Surprisingly I felt a lot better than I thought I was going to feel. They were good goals for them, guys just crashing and that's how you score in this League."
The Hawks' offense was just a little too dominant for Howard to steal one.
Chicago has turned around what appeared to be a sinking ship just a week ago. The Hawks' win streak comes on the heels of an ugly nine-game winless skid that saw them fall from the top of the Western Conference to the sixth spot, and fourth in the Central Division. Now they're gunning to jump back in the mix.
It was Detroit's first loss in seven games, but also the Wings' first game on the road in that span. The Red Wings remain scorching at home, with a 23-game winning streak and 26-2-1 mark at Joe Louis Arena. However, they're merely ordinary on the road. Detroit's record away from their home arena fell to just 15-16-1, which is a season-long trend they can't seem to shake.
"The score was 2-1, but we didn't play well defensively," Babcock said. "We didn't make enough good decisions with the puck to allow ourselves to play. We were average."
One good decision came early from Filppula, who gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. He capped a power play with his 17th goal of the season by potting it with a snap shot from the top of the circles. The puck sailed through the slot untouched and snuck between Crawford's blocker and pad on the far side.
It was Filppula's first goal in eight games and just his second in the past 18, while shifting from left wing to center on the second line to make up for Zetterberg – who filled in for Datsyuk on the top unit.
The Wings continued to play well for about eight more minutes before giving way to the hard-charging Hawks – who took control in the second, outshooting Detroit 16-12 and getting numerous odd-man rushes, all turned away by Howard.
Chicago finally tied it 1-1 on the goal by Hayes at 7:45 of the second, which he scored by tapping in a loose rebound in the blue paint. It was his fifth goal of the season and first in three games since being recalled from the minors.
"It was a huge game for our team here, get two more points and keep moving back in the direction we want to be going," the 6-6, 221-pound Hayes said. "[Going hard to the net is] what we've got to do with that team. You just have to get the big guys in front there and cash in."
That's also what led to Kruger's game-winner, which was scored 1:53 into the third. After more acrobatic stops by Howard kept it 1-1, the Hawks kept pushing to start the third. Hayes sent a wraparound shot at the net and Kruger tapped it home. Detroit couldn't muster up enough offense to counter.
"You look at the plays that were costing us, they were breakaways and stuff," said Detroit defenseman Ian White, who was on the ice for Kruger's goal. "Those weren't match-up problems. We were just turning the puck over. We had mental lapses for whatever reason."