It took some timely penalty kills and a few lucky breaks, but the Blackhawks finally closed out the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 at the United Center Friday night. After a very strong start to the game, Chicago was forced to hang on to a one-goal lead and needed two third-period penalty kills to seal the victory.
“Tonight, it looked like we were on our way to our first comfortable lead – it’s been some time since we’ve had that kind of situation – and we let it unravel,” said head coach Joel Quenneville. “I don’t think you want to get comfortable with anybody. At the same time, we wanted to close them out and we were looking to keep it at a two- or three-goal cushion.”
“I wouldn’t say it was the best second half of a game that we’ve ever had, but two points is two points,” said John Madden. “We’re doing well and collecting points. We have to build on the good things and improve on the bad parts in our game.”
Chicago looked sharp in the first two periods, recording two goals on 20 shots in the first frame and adding a power play tally in the second. However, two goals by Toronto’s Phil Kessel got the Hawks out of their comfort zone nearing the end of regulation.
“We came out hard in the first couple of periods and then they got that first goal at the end of the second and I think that gave them a bit of life,” said Duncan Keith
. “You’ve got to give them credit; in the third period, they had a lot of chances and made some good shots.”
“We stopped skating, stopped moving our feet and were looking for the easy plays,” said Madden. “We got back on our heels and that’s not our game. We’ve got to keep pressing.”
The Blackhawks were forced to kill off two penalties in the third period, but managed to stave off the league’s best power play unit in Toronto in the game's crucial closing minutes. Goaltender Cristobal Huet played a major role in the win, making a key save in the second period, stonewalling the Maple Leafs at the game’s end and finishing with a season-high 29 saves on the night.
“The penalty kills were big for us tonight,” said Quenneville. “Huey’s been great. When the game is on the line, he finds pucks and he made a couple really big saves. You’ve got to commend him on how he’s gotten better day in and day out.”
“Huet was making big saves when we needed them and for the most part we did a good job not giving them too much,” said Keith. “That was really big for us.”
With one more home game left in November, the Blackhawks came in to Friday's game determined to take points where they could get them while they still had the home ice advantage.
“The guys in the dressing room know that our division and conference are really tight,” Madden said. “We want to be an elite team and we’ve got to start stringing some wins together and putting some distance between ourselves and other teams.”