Along the Boards: Blackhawks take down the Anaheim Ducks 6–2 on the back of Corey Crawford

  

With the Blackhawks just barely having one skate left in the doorway of the playoffs, they looked to go on a run at home against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night. Chicago was only six points out of an inadvisable playoff spot, but they had the difficult task of leapfrogging four other teams to get there. They also had Corey Crawford in net for his sixth straight start after trading away Robin Lehner in a baffling front office move. The home team was officially in feast or famine mode.

If the Blackhawks wanted to beat the Ducks, they would need to do what they do best and that is to score, preferably first. They did exactly that when Kirby Dach skated to the front of the net and dished the puck of to Adam Boqvist, who found Drake Caggiula to the side of Ducks goalie John Gibson for his ninth goal of the season. Of note, it was the first goal in NHL history involving two players born in the 2000s in Boqvist and Dach, who recorded the assists. The Blackhawks ended the first period up 1–0.

Most people thought the Blackhawks traded the wrong goalie at the deadline and there is evidence on both sides of the argument, but to Crawford’s credit, if the Hawks do by some miracle somehow sneak into the playoffs, it would be in part to his willingness to sacrifice his whole body to keep his teammates in the game. For a goalie that has missed a lot of time the past two seasons due to injury, he gave the Blackhawks everything he had in the first period.

Crawford’s numbers this season only tell one side of the story. The Blackhawks’ defense has been terrible this season so the goalies are saving more shots. The more shots there are, the more likely the opposing team scores. Simple percentages. The home team may have scored the lone goal of the opening period, but the Ducks out shot them 16–6 and were taking better shots due to the Blackhawks’ mismanagement of the puck, a story that has had many chapters this season.

The Blackhawks came out for the second period with a lot more energy and fast-paced play almost as if they knew they were lucky to escape the first period with a lead. A deflected shot off the stick of Duncan Keith took a fortunate bounce off the end boards, right in front of Dylan Strome, who fired it past Gibson’s right side for his 11th of the season for a 2–0 Blackhawks advantage.

Shortly after, however, Christian Djoos fooled everyone, including Crawford, into thinking he was taking a shot and he drew the Blackhawks defenders all away from the net in time to pass it to Danton Heinen, who shot it in the gaping net for his ninth goal of the season. The Blackhawks’ lead was down to just one goal, once again, at 2–1.

Crawford continued his fancy footwork when Adam Henrique had a prime scoring opportunity, but the goaltender stretched wide and got his left leg pad in front of the shot. Henrique had about two or three opportunities before the whistle.

The Blackhawks had two good shorthanded chances from Brandon Saad on a breakaway and later Caggiula, but Gibson was there to hold the deficit at one. That was when the Blackhawks’ best puck handler, Patrick Kane, got just past the Ducks’ blue line and fired a pin-point pass to Strome in stride, who redirected the puck past Gibson for his second goal of the game and 12th overall for a 3–1 Chicago lead. Lucas Carlsson got his first career point on the goal, as he set Kane up with an exquisite lead pass to start the play, as well.

The Blackhawks would waste little time in queuing Chelsea Dagger again in the second period. Heinen went for a backhand shot on goal on a breakaway, but Boqvist scurried back and got his stick in the way to disrupt Heinen’s attempt. The Hawks quickly transitioned the puck for a three-on-one the other way and Alexander Nylander capitalized. Nylander toyed with Gibson by going forehand, backhand, then short side into the back of the net for his ninth goal of the season, pushing the Blackhawk advantage to 4–1.

Just 15 seconds later, Nylander would get another point this time on an assist to Kane in front of the goal. This was Kane’s 29th goal of the season. The Blackhawks scored four goals on 18 shots while the Ducks mustered only one goal on 13 shots. This was a very different Blackhawks team in the second period, a team that played both sides of the ice and with a purpose, finishing the second period up 5–1.


The third period opened with a scary moment, as Ryan Getzlaf tried to avoid Crawford after he stopped a shot and accidentally kneed the goaltender in the head. The medical staff and concussion spotter must have seen something they did not like because they brought Crawford to the bench and he was replaced by Malcolm Subban, who was making his Blackhawks debut. It ended up being short lived, however, as Crawford only missed little more than a minute of play and came right back in to guard the net. Crawford, despite a history of numerous head and neck injuries in his career, came back into a game where his team was up late by four goals and in control of the game.

Alrighty then.


Just a few minutes later, he got a wellness check on a redirected shot from Carter Rowney and Crawford missed it for the Ducks’ second goal of the game, cutting the gap to 5–2 with Rowney’s seventh goal of the season. The Blackhawks, however, would add one more goal for good measure when Matthew Highmore hit David Kampf for his eighth of the season and a 6–2 lead on Anaheim goalie Ryan Miller, who replaced Gibson for the third period.

Crawford allowed two goals on 39 shots and the line of Strome, Kane and Nylander had a combined for 13 shots, four goals and three assists. Not a bad day at the office for the Blackhawks, as they took the 6–2 victory and they would hope the rest of the dominoes in front of them would fall their way.

The Blackhawks get the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday at the United Center and puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Do not be surprised if Crawford is not in net for that one and Subban makes his “unofficial” Blackhawks debut. With the season likely lost at this point, there really is no need to push a possibly injured Crawford into his seventh start in a row unless they must. Whoever is scheduled in goal probably wishes they were not, as the Oilers are first place in the Pacific Division and show zero signs of slowing down.

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