CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks got back to playing the style of hockey that won them the 2013 Stanley Cup, and it came at the expense of the rival Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night at United Center.
The Blackhawks, who'd lost two straight games, dominated puck possession and outshot the Red Wings by a wide margin in an impressive 4-1 victory.
Chicago (39-15-14) kept pace with the Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division; the Avalanche defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-1 Sunday to stay one point ahead of Chicago for second place.
"I liked our game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was a tight game and that's how it is against this team. We had some timely goals. I thought we played the right way and [had] way more intensity in the puck areas and found a way to come up with way more loose pucks than our prior two games."
They also had Marian Hossa. The skilled two-way right wing missed five games with an upper-body injury, but made his presence known early and often against the Red Wings, his former team. He finished the night with three points on a goal and two assists.
Hossa also helped kill off three of four Detroit power plays and got the primary assist on the Blackhawks' power-play goal by Nick Leddy 8:44 into the second period.
"It took me a little bit to get into it," Hossa said. "Missing five games, you just try to have short shifts at the beginning and get yourself into the game and then, as the game [wore] on, I felt more comfortable."
Chicago also got an outstanding performance from forward Ben Smith, who had a goal and assist after being bumped from right wing on the fourth line to center of the second line in the first period. Smith won seven of 10 faceoffs, put three shots on goal, buzzed around the net and was credited with one hit.
He handled the promotion well after flip-flopping with veteran Michal Handzus 7:32 into the game. In the amount of time it took for him to go over the boards for his third shift, Smith went from gritty checking-line right wing to speedy, playmaking center in between forwards Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane.
The Blackhawks have searched for a solution to that spot for several years, but for at least one game they found a suitable answer.
"I didn't know [before the game]," Smith said. "You never know what's going to happen, so you need to be prepared for any opportunity. Any opportunity you get, any chance, you've got to make the most of it. I was just trying to work hard and complement those two guys."
The experiment worked for that line, but most of the credit for the win went to the Blackhawks as a whole. Chicago outshot Detroit 30-20 and won more of the puck battles that drew Quenneville's ire the previous two games against the Avalanche and Nashville Predators.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews scored his 27th goal, defenseman Duncan Keith had two assists (earning the 300th of his career in the process), forward Patrick Sharp finished with a team-high seven shots and goalie Corey Crawford got the victory by making 19 saves.
The only bad news for the Blackhawks was that forward Brandon Saad left the game with 7:39 left in the second because of an undisclosed upper-body injury and did not return.
"I thought tonight everybody played well," Hossa said. "t was maybe a little shaky beginning, but I think we stuck with our system and [found] a way to win."
Detroit (30-24-13), which received a goal from Gustav Nyquist, lost ground in the race for one of the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Jimmy Howard (26 saves) took the loss despite playing well for most of the game, particularly in the first.
The Red Wings, who have 10 injured players out, again had trouble scoring or creating sustained offense at even strength. Howard said the circumstances inherently put undue pressure on the entire team.
"There's no room for error," Howard said. "That's the thing out there. It's been such a grind to get goals out there, I think it's been tough on all of us."
After not solving Howard on 11 shots in the first, the Blackhawks continued to pile on shots without scoring to start the second.
The quality of scoring chances was the difference. They improved progressively until Leddy scored at 8:44 with a shot from above the left circle. Smith played a key role by helping Hossa win a puck battle below the goal line and going to the front of the net to screen Howard.
After Nyquist tied it 1-1 on a power-play goal at 15:10, his 17th of the season, Smith gave the Blackhawks the lead again, 2-1, with 14 seconds remaining in the period. He screened Howard again, but this time scored off a rebound while being checked to the ice.
Hossa's goal pushed the lead to 3-1 at 6:33 of the third, after two Red Wings collided in the neutral zone to spring him, and he then found Toews with a nice feed for the final goal at 17:50 to complete the scoring.
"We've got to find a way to win 2-1," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "When the game's 1-1 [almost 40 minutes] in, it's a good spot for our team. Once the game got to 3-1, it's not as good a spot for our team. We don't have enough goals in our lineup to play like that, so we were set up and we let it slip away."
|PPG - Nick Leddy (7) ASST: Marian Hossa (27), Ben Smith (12)|
1 - 0 CHI
|PPG - Gustav Nyquist (17) ASST: Daniel Alfredsson (24), Niklas Kronwall (34)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Ben Smith (9) ASST: Duncan Keith (49), Patrick Kane (39)|
2 - 1 CHI
|Marian Hossa (25) ASST: Patrick Sharp (36), Duncan Keith (50)|
3 - 1 CHI
|SHG - Jonathan Toews (27) ASST: Marian Hossa (28)|
4 - 1 CHI
|Patrick Sharp Hooking against Drew Miller|
|Riley Sheahan Hooking against Patrick Sharp|
|Tomas Tatar Interference against Michal Handzus|
|Teemu Pulkkinen Tripping against Patrick Kane|
|Patrick Kane Hooking against Danny DeKeyser|
|Bryan Bickell Hooking against Jonathan Ericsson|
|Andrew Shaw Roughing against Luke Glendening|
|Luke Glendening Interference against Andrew Shaw|
|Duncan Keith Hi-sticking against Gustav Nyquist|