ANAHEIM, Calif. – Chicago and Anaheim had the NHL’s two best records and a combined 15 Olympians on the ice at Honda Center.
Before all that world-class talent heads to Sochi this weekend, the Blackhawks demonstrated why they’re still the team to beat when the NHL gets back to work in three short weeks.
Corey Crawford made 29 saves in his first shutout of the season and Chicago pulled within one point of Anaheim for the overall NHL lead with a 2-0 victory over the Ducks on Wednesday night.
Marian Hossa scored in the second period and captain Jonathan Toews added a late goal for the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, who improved to 3-0-2 on their six-game trip before the Olympic break.
Chicago followed up its victory in Los Angeles two days ago with another solid effort against the Ducks, suggesting the defending champs are hitting their stride right before Sochi.
“The last handful of games on this trip, we’ve got back to the way we need to play,” Toews said. “That’s a tough team to do that to, and we have to feel good about what we were able to accomplish.”
After keeping the Ducks off the scoreboard in a fast, well-played game, the Blackhawks also won the Western Conference powers’ season series, taking two of three from Anaheim. Chicago (35-10-14, 84 points) is right behind Anaheim (40-14-5, 85 points) with one game left before the break.
“(Crawford) made some key saves, and we had some breaks and some fortunate bounces,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “(Anaheim) had that run there, 19 of 20 (wins), but I think this trip really put us in a spot where we’re back in the mix. We played the right way, and we’re getting some good points.”
Quenneville also announced Patrick Kane won’t be with the Blackhawks when they wrap up their trip in Phoenix. The American Olympian’s grandfather, Donald, died two days ago, and Kane is going back home to Buffalo before heading to Sochi.
Jonas Hiller stopped 23 shots for the Ducks, who have lost four of five. Anaheim also has lost three straight home games after starting the season 20-0-2 at Honda Center.
“We will overcome this,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought we put in a great effort. We just didn’t score goals. We’re not going to cry about it. We’re just going to get back to work and put another big run together.”
Chicago mostly beat the Ducks with defence, a minor surprise in a meeting between two of the NHL’s highest-scoring teams. Crawford turned away every chance generated by the Ducks, who hadn’t been shut out in their first 56 games this season before getting blanked twice in their last three games by Dallas and Chicago.
Anaheim improved its effort from recent games, yet struggled mightily to get clean scoring chances. The Ducks had a 15-3 shots edge early on, but couldn’t score during 40 seconds of 5-on-3 play in the scoreless first period.
“We were doing a lot of things right, but unfortunately we can’t buy a goal right now,” Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler said. “All we can do is continue to push, continue to work on it.”
Both rosters are dotted with Olympic talent, including five key members of the Canadian team headed to Sochi. In addition, two members of the Swedish team—Chicago’s Johnny Oduya and Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg—were scratched.
Just 39 seconds into the second period, Hossa sneaked into Anaheim’s defence and beat Hiller for his 24th goal. The Slovak Olympian also had two goals in Chicago’s win over the Ducks last month.
The Blackhawks matched the Ducks’ effort after the midway point of the game. Anaheim’s Daniel Winnik had an outstanding short-handed chance in the slot in the third period, but couldn’t settle a bouncing puck in time.
Toews wrapped it up with 2:31 to play with a slippery move off the wall. After Hossa grabbed a turnover by Fowler, Toews went toward the middle and put a shot past Hiller’s left arm for his 19th goal.
NOTES: Oduya missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury. Quenneville said the injury shouldn’t prevent Oduya from playing in Sochi. … Hossa has scored in five consecutive games. … Ducks C Nick Bonino missed his third straight game with an apparent wrist injury. Before the game, Anaheim recalled F Emerson Etem for his first game with the Ducks since Dec. 9.