CHICAGO, Illinois – Typically in today’s NHL, if you come out on the wrong end of the special teams battle, you’re in for a tough night.
Especially here, in the tight Central Division where there’s very little room for error.
That was the case for the Winnipeg Jets on this night, as for the second time in five days, they’re heading home from the Windy City empty handed.
Power play goals from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, as well as 25 saves from Corey Crawford, lifted the Chicago Blackhawks to a 2-0 win over the Jets Friday at United Center.
With the goal – his team-leading 19th of the season – Kane extended his franchise record point streak to 25 games.
Suffering his first loss in a Jets uniform, Connor Hellebuyck was brilliant, making 29 saves.
“Special teams. That was the difference in the game,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said.
The Hawks opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 4:34. With Adam Lowry off serving a holding penalty, Toews got two whacks at a loose puck in the blue paint, depositing the second after Hellebuyck made a terrific, desperation save along the goal line.
It turned out to be the game winner.
“I thought we played a pretty good game,” Hellebuyck said. “It’s hard to put my (finger) on it right now. I liked the way we played and it was only a 2-0 game, so it’s not like we weren’t in it.”
The Jets had an abbreviated man advantage of their own, but it came to abrupt end when Dustin Byfuglien gave the puck away and was called for hooking as Marian Hossa sped off on a shorthanded breakway. (Hossa lifted a backhand shot high and off the glass, preserving the Jets’ one-goal deficit.)
Five of the 12 Chicago shots in the first period came on a power play that finished 1-for-3 after 20 minutes, and 2-for-5 overall.
The Jets, meanwhile, finished the night 0-for-5, but were step-for-step with the Hawks at even strength.
Midway through an otherwise uneventful middle frame, Kane put the Hawks up by a pair with his team-leading 10th power-play marker, firing a shot bar down from the bottom of the far circle to give him 39 points in his past 25 games.
“You’ve got to give it to the shooter. He picked his corner on that one,” Hellebuyck said. “He showed clearly what he can do. I’ll definitely keep that in the back of my mind the next time we play them.”
Kane was at it again late in the period, but Hellebuyck came up with an incredible right toe save as 88 dished off to rookie Artemi Panarin, who blasted a one-timer.
Aside from the two goals – of which neither he could be blamed – the rookie ‘tender was having a night to remember in front of 22,021 at the Madhouse. Early in the third, he made a great blocker save off Andrew Shaw, who broke in alone, to keep his team in it.
“I liked it,” Hellebuyck said of his performance, adding that he felt fine in the back-to-back situation. “I didn’t like the result but there are some building (blocks) there.”
Added Maurice: “I liked his game tonight. He looked good, solid. I’m not looking at him for either one of (the goals).”
The Jets were outshot 8-5 in the second. A testament to just how much difficulty they had getting pucks on net, the Blackhawks were credited with 14 blocks through two – more than twice that of the Jets – for a three-period total of 23.
It was tough sledding, all right.
“They knock more stuff down than anyone,” Maurice said. “They’ve got great skill and they knock a lot of stuff out of the air. They played well.”
The Jets made a push in the third and were easily the better of the two teams, outshooting the Hawks 13-10, but they just couldn’t get one to sink.
“Their sticks are as good as they get in the league,” Blake Wheeler said. “They’re not a very physical team, but they skate so well and their sticks are so strong that you think you have maybe more time than they do, and then they knock it down and go the other way.
"We simplified it a bit in the third and just had a focused mindset of trying to get some shots on their goalie. From there, we created a few really high quality chances that we just couldn’t get to go in the net.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com