GLENDALE, Ariz. - It was an end-to-end, breakneck thriller in the desert as the Blackhawks took a 3-2 shootout win on Saturday night over the Arizona Coyotes.
The teams combined for 86 shots in 65 minutes of play and the netminders - Corey Crawford for Chicago and Annti Raanta for Arizona - came up with 82 stops along the way. Brandon Saad scored both goals for the Blackhawks, Patrick Kane had two assists and he and Jonathan Toews each converted their shootout attempts in the victory.
"People got their money's worth tonight, no question," head coach Jeremy Colliton said after the win. "I thought the overtime was fantastic, and then the shootout, I mean the quality of our guys is - I think Tazer beat the goalie three times. It's unbelievable. It's nice to have those guys. I thought we played well enough that even though we didn't score in overtime, you felt like the hockey gods were going to take care of us."
"A couple times on the bench, with how loud the crowd was, chances going back and forth, especially in overtime, it was exciting," Saad said. "It felt like a playoff game almost. That was a lot of fun."
Chicago jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening 25 minutes, but Arizona evened things up before the end of the second with goals from Brad Richardson and Conor Garland.
"That was probably the most exciting game all year, I'd say," Crawford said. "I thought a good job by our guys not to panic after they come back and we had a ton of chances, but (Raanta) played unbelievable tonight. It was nice to get that win in a shootout."
"It's huge," said Saad of the two points. "They made a push and for us it's a huge character win for sticking with it. Sometimes in the past we kind of falter, but that second point is huge, especially in this race."
Looking down on the ice in Arizona, you couldn't tell that the Blackhawks were coming off a 10-day break with the All-Star Game break and bye week pushed together.
"It looked like we were flying out there for a team that took more than a week off," Saad said. "We looked really fast and that was a quick game. You think you're going to have slow legs, but that wasn't the case. Everyone was playing hard and at the top of their game, it felt like."
"It was really fast-paced, it felt really fast both ways. They skated really well, I thought we skated really well - quick transitions both directions," Colliton added. "Overall, pretty pleased with the effort an it's nice to have another couple days here to reload and it's another big game coming up."
Chicago tied a season-high with 44 shots on the night with nearly all but two forwards and one defenseman hitting the net at least once in the win.
"I think keeping it simple (was key)," Saad said. "For us, it's something we talked about with shorter shifts and getting everyone involved. When we play more in their zone and have that energy, we're going to have more success. When we get carried away and lengthen our shifts and give them turnovers, they get more offense off of it."
With every big save on the night at one end of the rink, the goalie at the other end of the ice somehow one-upped his opposition minutes later. The post-to-post pad saves, robberies with the glove and even a heel-kick stymie piled up, especially as the clock wound down with 17 saves a piece over the final 25 minutes of play.
Crawford picked up his 10th win of the year with an endless highlight reel of stops, including a breakaway kick save in the first period to turn aside Garland's first attempt and then a cross-crease glove snag to deny Taylor Hall a wide-open, backdoor look in the opening minutes of the final frame to keep it 2-2.
No save was bigger or more timely, though, than Raanta's denial of a Brandon Saad hat trick with minutes on the clock. The Blackhawks forward put a rebound over the sprawled-out Arizona goalie with a backhander in tight that was denied by a last-second leg kick from Raanta, blindly find the puck with his heel.
"Originally when I shot it, I thought it was definitely going in when I got it elevated. But he threw a heel up and made a save and both goaltenders were great tonight. Each team had over 40 shots, so they did great."
"Both guys were really good, made big saves for us," Colliton said. "I thought Crow, at key times - first period, (we) got a little sloppy as the period went along and he bailed us out. When the game's on the line, you know you're going to need a save and obviously (Raanta) was really good too."
The win was Crawford's third straight victory and brought his save percentage up from .910 to .912 on the season.
"It's been a lot of chances I think, a little more open hockey I think, around the league and it's nice to have one where it's not so many goals, more saves," Crawford said with a laugh. "We played well. Our PK was great. A couple of big blocks on the back side, they made big plays on the back side and we were able to make good plays there."
In four games since returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him for 12 outings, Saad has now found the net four times and is clicking with his new linemate Kane, who had primary assists on both goals against the Coyotes.
The two-point night push Kane's own streak to 12 games with at least a point.
"I think playing with Kaner's been a big help," the winger said. "We've had different centers, but I think we found some chemistry there. He's a good puck mover. For me, it's just having that shot-first mentality because he's going to find you. They've been going in for me."
Their newest center, 19-year-old Kirby Dach, also has a run of his own going, with points in three straight games (1G, 3A) - his second such streak of the season.
"I thought they were really good," Colliton said of the trio. "You talk about all three of them as far as how valuable they are to the team. Kirby keeps getting better - very active, skating well - and I thought that line ... they created a lot going forward and were pretty good defensively. It just adds a different dimension to our team."