DETROIT – Just when it started to look like the Chicago Blackhawks might be slipping a little, they came out on Sunday afternoon and blasted the rival Detroit Red Wings on the road.
They didn’t just win comfortably at Joe Louis Arena in NBC’s Game of the Week. The Blackhawks (26-5-3) routed the Red Wings 7-1 – without injured star forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa – to send a stark reminder to the rest of the National Hockey League of why they’re atop the Western Conference.
“It goes without saying the difference those two guys make for us, but the reality is we have to find a way to play without them,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who scored a goal and added assists on rookie Brandon Saad’s two goals. “This goes to show we’ve got a lot of skill on this team, a lot of guys that can step up and put pucks on net and make things happen.”
Sharp and Hossa are expected back soon, possibly on Monday night against the Nashville Predators at United Center, but they didn’t make this trip and it didn’t matter. Their teammates simply overwhelmed Detroit (17-13-5) with three straight goals in the first 4:12 of the game – all scored on Red Wings starting goalie Jimmy Howard by rookie Jeremy Morin, Saad and center Dave Bolland.
Saad’s second of the game made it 5-0 just 4:00 into the second period and came just eight seconds after he’d set up a Toews’ goal. Saad had tallied points in 10 of the previous 14 games, but hadn’t found the back of the net since March 5 against the Minnesota Wild. He’s been the left winger next to Toews for all but one of Chicago’s 34 games and is finally getting stats to show it.
“It’s been fun to see how determined he is,” Toews told NHL.com. “If he doesn’t score one night, he’s hungry to get back at it the next night and he never counts himself out. He’s got that confidence that not a lot of guys have at this level, regardless of the skill set. He wants to go use it and go make something happen every single night. He never takes a night off.”
Saad said it’s been equally important for his confidence to remain with Toews and – when healthy – Hossa.
“With the capabilities of the top line, those guys, it helps me out a lot and makes my job easy,” Saad said. “Playing with those guys … they have faith in [me]. They just say ‘Stay confident, don’t get down and keep playing your game.’ That helps out a lot.”
It was also a good day on defense for the Blackhawks, who nearly helped goalie Corey Crawford pick up a shutout before Cory Emmerton’s goal with 33 seconds left in the third spoiled it. Crawford did break a personal two-game losing skid and was great yet again playing against the Red Wings – whom he’d previously beaten 2-1 in overtime Jan. 27 in Chicago and 2-1 in a shootout March 3 in Detroit.
Bolland, meanwhile, added a second goal at 7:55 of the third and his offensive presence was also a welcome sight to the Hawks.
His first, which was credited to him after Detroit’s Jakub Kindl intercepted his pass and accidentally scored into his own net, was Bolland’s first goal in 16 games. He’d last scored on Feb. 15 against the San Jose Sharks and had just five assists during that stretch, while also sitting out five games with an upper-body injury. If Bolland’s offense picks up, the Blackhawks might not need to trade for a second-line center for Sharp and Patrick Kane. Chicago could
also get back to dominating games again, which is something Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wants to see in the remaining 14 games.
“I think how we play is how we’re going to focus and spend some time going into the rest of the year,” Quenneville said. “We want that four-line rotation and we want to know that everybody’s contributing in a meaningful way. That home-stand (lost two of three games) didn’t represent the way we played most of the year, and that’s what we’re looking to re-establish.”
Detroit, on the other hand, continues to have a turbulent season. This game started terribly with news that captain Henrik Zetterberg wouldn’t play because of a groin injury and is day-to-day. It continued to get worse as the game progressed, including an upper-body injury that knocked Mikael Samuelsson from the game after two periods in his first game back after an extended absence because of a fractured finger.
And that’s just the injury report. What happened on the scoreboard also stung. Detroit outshot Chicago 34-26, outhit the Blackhawks 29-11 and still lost by six goals.
“Ugly’s an understatement, obviously,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Preparation and work ethic are two things you need to be successful in any walk of life and we weren’t prepared and we didn’t compete at a high enough level. Any way you look at it, they capitalized on our poor effort. Did I see it coming? No. Is there any excuse for it? No, but obviously as a coaching staff [and] as a group of players, we weren’t ready to go today and, you know, it’s flat-out not acceptable.”
Morin’s goal opened the scoring. After scooping the puck in front of the crease off a carom from the end boards, the rookie buried it with Howard out of position. Saad’s first goal came next, which he scored while streaking to the net uncovered 48 seconds later. Bolland’s first goal made it 3-0 41 seconds after that and Chicago had a 3-0 lead that it carried into the first intermission – reminiscent of the way the Edmonton Oilers put four goals on the Vancouver Canucks in a 4-0 win on Saturday night at Rexall Place.
Toews and Saad scored their back-to-back markers early in the second, while Nick Leddy and Bolland beat Jonas Gustavsson in the third.
“It’s an early game and sometimes you come out a little bit flat in those first periods, but that wasn’t the case for us,” Toews said. “We were getting pucks out of our zone, into their zone and all those little things that just kind of make it more difficult for the other team to play against us. We did all that and we got our chances and we buried them.”