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Between the Dots: Roaming Hawks start trip with hard-fought win

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Corey Crawford pokes away Derick Brassard's shootout attempt to win Thursday's win in Columbus (Getty Images).

COLUMBUS, Ohio—En route to Patrick Kane’s shootout winner, an intricate maneuver that had as many parts as a Swiss watch, he feared he had lost control of the puck forever.

“Then I kind of got it back, just as he went for the poke check,” said Kane, referring to Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, brilliant but beaten Thursday night. “I knew I had him when I heard him swearing. In Russian, I think.”

But it wasn’t over until it was over, or until Corey Crawford, in a similar situation at the other end, injected his stick into Derick Brassard’s plans. This duel went to the masked man, and thus the Blackhawks sealed a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets before a Nationwide Arena gathering of 15,009, many of whom exalted in the outcome. Coach Joel Quenneville had a full complement of white jerseys before him on the visitors’ bench, behind which dozens of seats were occupied by red sweaters.

Fans of either side saw Johnny Oduya and Jack Johnson tally 52 seconds apart in the middle period of a contest ruled by netminding, including a fiery five-minute overtime that looked like Wimbledon. Back and forth, end to end, 13 shots combined. Oduya’s first of the season was arranged by Kane, who became the fifth-quickest Blackhawk to reach 400 points (426 games). Johnson’s rocket punctuated a power play.

Otherwise, it was business as usual. The Blackhawks secured their 11th straight triumph over the Blue Jackets since February of 2011, but all four this season have been by one goal and could have gone either way. Columbus is headed in the right direction, and we mean not only to the Eastern Conference. It might be fortuitous timing that Chicago is shedding the Blue Jackets as a frequent intra-division foe. They are trending upward, not only because of their impending haul of three first-round draft choices, but because of the man overseeing the rebuilding process—John Davidson, the president of hockey operations who also performed a comprehensive facelift upon the St. Louis Blues.

Refreshed after Monday and Tuesday without a practice or a game, the Blackhawks rejoined the hurry-up schedule of 2013. This excursion is a beast, starting in the East. With Thursday night’s opener of a road trip that will entail four games, the Blackhawks shall perspire in four time zones. Starting times for all are 7 locally, but in Chicago, this journey, brought to you by Mapquest, features puck drops at 6, 7, 8 and 9.

Mind you, even though the Blackhawks travel in style, they travel when it’s dark. Not once will they reach their hotel in Dallas, Denver or Anaheim before midnight after leaving via charter airplane from their previous destination. Thing is, every franchise is doing it, or something akin to it. The Edmonton Oilers recently vacated their building for the longest time because of curling. We can laugh about curling in the United States, but in Canada, you don’t laugh about curling.

Duty compels us to report that the Blackhawks, who had lost their previous two starts, triumphed just as they were being targeted as the next helpless victims of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx by people who believe in such things. Well, now, Michael Jordan is the all-time leader in SI covers with 50, followed by Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods. Moral to the myth: we should all have careers as cursed as theirs.

A Sports Illustrated cover for hockey is somewhat rare. Even when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, they were pictured only on a regional covers. The last cover about Blackhawks for the entire nation to view published in the spring of 1972, and it dealt with Bobby Hull’s departure from Chicago for the rival World Hockey Association Winnipeg Jets.

Other kudos and plaudits are pouring in. Hall of Fame journalist Helene Elliott designated her first half coach of the year award to Quenneville and the Hart Trophy for most valuable player to Kane. Coach Q also got the nod from USA Today’s Kevin Allen. More than likely, the Blackhawks receiving these preliminary citations will treat them as did captain Jonathan Toews upon being presented the Clarence Campbell Bowl as 2010 Western Conference champions. Wouldn’t touch it with a garden rake. Not the hardware Toews had in mind.

Meanwhile, there’s the Oduya-Meter. Since being traded to the Blackhawks 13 months ago, the calm and quiet defenseman has played in 45 regular-season games, only four of which have been lost in regulation. Calmly and quietly, he attempted an explanation about the statistic.

“It’s a lot about timing,” Oduya said. “When I came here we went on a push, and then we started this year hot. I joined a good team, and I am trying to contribute to a good team.”

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