CHICAGO – The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks are finally finding ways to ratchet up their play late in games to close out opponents.
Ryan Johnson, Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane scored in a 4:32 span early in the third period to break open a tight game, and the Blackhawks beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on Friday night to extend their season-high winning streak to seven games.
Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell scored in the first period for Chicago, which led only 2-1 after 40 minutes. Toews has goals in four consecutive games, scoring six times and adding two assists in the span. He also stretched his points streak to eight games, with seven goals and seven assists during the run.
Rather than lapse in the third period—one of Chicago’s weaknesses this season—the Blackhawks picked up the pace against Carolina.
“It was better,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “I know we didn’t go into the (third) period with a comfortable lead. It was one of those dangerous settings where they’re (Carolina) hanging around, they’re in the game and anything can happen in that third. But I thought we had consistency in our game tonight.”
Even during their winning streak, the Blackhawks have allowed opponents to come back in the final period. And for the season, Chicago has been outscored 74-65 in the third.
That didn’t happen Friday.
“It was nice to finish strong there in the third,” Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith said. “It was something we’ve been talking about for a while, keeping the foot on the gas and tonight we did that.”
Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner scored for the Hurricanes, whose two-game winning streak ended.
“After the first 10 minutes of the first period, I thought we had enough chances in that second period to be even or better,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “But they were stronger in the third than we were. We would have needed a few more breaks to win this game here tonight.”
Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Chris Campoli each had two assists to help Blackhawks pull ahead of Los Angeles and Phoenix for fourth place alone in the tight Western Conference standings. Carolina fell into eighth place in the East, a point behind the New York Rangers.
“It would have been nice to get that second one to tie it,” Staal said. “(The puck) just didn’t want to seem to want to cross the line and it kind of got away from us in the third period.”
Chicago rookie Corey Crawford, making his 10th straight start, made 18 saves. Rookie Justin Peters started in goal for Carolina, ending a string of 24 straight starts by Cam Ward.
Peters finished with 24 saves as the Hurricanes played their second game in two nights, following a victory a home over Buffalo.
“I don’t know if Cam stops that first one,” Maurice said. “We turned the puck over and gave the guy a breakaway in the first minute of the game. From that goal right until the third, our goaltending was pretty good. He made some saves.”
After Toews forced Cory Stillman to turn over the puck, the Chicago captain opened the scoring 55 seconds in on the first shot of the game. Toews knocked the puck off Stillman’s stick in the right circle of the Carolina zone, then Sharp fed it back to him in the slot.
Staal tied it at 6:23, exploiting a Chicago coverage breakdown.
Stillman and Erik Cole broke down the ice and eventually were taken out of the play by the Blackhawks’ defence. But Staal swooped in alone on a loose puck in the slot and fired it past Crawford.
Bickell put Chicago back ahead 2-1 midway through the period. Brent Seabrook’s shot from the point hit the post, and Bickell slid the rebound under Peters.
Both teams had prime opportunities in the loosely played, but scoreless second. Late in the period, Toews fired a puck toward an open net during a power play with Peters out of position. But Hurricanes defenceman Jay Harrison stopped the shot with his stick just before it crossed the goal line. Johnson, Bolland and Kane scored early the third period to put Chicago in charge. Johnson made it 3-1 with his first goal as a Blackhawk 2:50 into the third. He cut to the net off left wing and his apparent centring pass deflected in off Carolina defenceman Joni Pitkanen.
Just over a minute later, Bolland fired in a rebound of Hossa’s shot to extend Chicago’s lead to 4-1. Set up by Sharp, Kane beat Peters from the right circle at 7:22 to make it 5-1. Skinner connected from the crease with 7:51 left to complete the scoring.
NOTES: Johnson, hampered by injuries, played in just his 17th game with Chicago after signing as a free agent last summer. … The Blackhawks began a stretch of five straight games against Eastern Conference teams. Chicago’s next four games are on the road. During the trip, the Blackhawks will visit the White House on March 11 before a March 13 game in Washington. … Peters made his first start since Jan. 9 and first appearance since Jan. 17 when he relieved Ward in a 5-2 loss in Boston.