COLUMBUS—It was a comfortable conclusion to a bumpy road trip.
Down by a goal early, the Blackhawks roared to a 6-1 rout over the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday afternoon for their second consecutive victory on a three-week odyssey that went everywhere but up until Thursday night in, of all places, New York. The Blackhawks thoroughly outplayed the gifted Rangers to shed a nine-game losing streak there, then continued to recapture their misplaced identity here at Nationwide Arena against the struggling Blue Jackets.
If there was one constant in the reversal, besides a sense of energy and purpose, Corey Crawford’s steady goalkeeping deserves mention. As deftly as Crawford protected a 4-0 cushion in Madison Square Garden, he restricted the damage to 1-0 Saturday as the Blackhawks warmed from a balky start to a smooth finish. For the third game in a row—Nashville, New York and here—there were hundreds of red jerseys in the audience. Blackhawk fans travel well, even when the team doesn’t, but the journey is over, and the Blackhawks, who led their conference with 64 points when they left for Vancouver, return to the United Center for Sunday’s 11:30 a.m. contest against St. Louis with 69. It could have been worse.
“We’re excited to get back home, but we can’t relax,” said captain Jonathan Toews, who brought the Blackhawks even when he bull-rushed from the left around Jeff Carter and directly toward goalie Steve Mason. As the puck entered the net at 12:27 of the first period, Toews was still staging a fly-by to confirm his 29th of the season. He had that much momentum and his teammates took the cue. They gained a 2-1 lead when the puck hopped over Mason’s stick behind the cage. Bryan Bickell got it in the left corner and flung it toward the middle, where Viktor Stalberg waited, hungrily. A Columbus defenseman, John Moore, was between him and Mason, but Stalberg tucked it in the far side.
In the second, Toews did the heavy lifting, and fed out to Patrick Kane, who passed across brilliantly to Patrick Sharp in the left circle. 3-1, Chicago. Kane then clicked, through Mason’s pads, and the Blue Jackets went to the bullpen for Allen York. He surrendered goals to Marcus Kruger and Sami Lepisto in the third; the goal was Lepisto’s first and it came after he spent more time on the bench than a circuit court judge. It was he, alas, who coughed up the puck on Derick Brassard’s singular Columbus score.
John Scott exchanged indignities with Derek Dorsett after the Blue Jackets called timeout at 6-1. Before that, in the second period, Jimmy Hayes marked his return from Rockford by engaging Derek MacKenzie. Hayes gladly dropped his gloves, then removed MacKenzie’s helmet as a courtesy, like you would for a forgetful child when the family approaches a house of worship. You’ve got to hand it to MacKenzie, which Hayes did. Fighting the giant and gangly Chicago rookie is akin to taking on an octopus.
“He wanted to go, so we went,” said Hayes, who wants to stay. “Happy to be back.”