COLUMBUS, Ohio – This was supposed to be the weekend for the NHL All-Star Game at Nationwide Arena.
Instead, the Chicago Blackhawks flaunted their own constellation of stars.
Patrick Kane had yet another multipoint game with two assists, Jonathan Toews scored the game-winner early in the third period and Corey Crawford had 24 saves to help Chicago match the best start in franchise history with a 3-2 victory Saturday night over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The only other time the Blackhawks began a season 5-0-0 was 1971-72.
“That was one of those games where maybe we didn’t play our best hockey like we’ve seen in the last five games, but as a team it doesn’t matter who goes out there you’ve got to find a way to win,” Toews said. “And we did that.”
Crawford, who won for the fourth time this season, was solid all night but particularly when the Blackhawks were a man down. They killed all five penalties.
“I feel good, I feel focused,” Crawford said. “The puck looks pretty big right now. Also, everyone’s making the effort to play defence. It’s showing in the first bunch of games—guys are coming back to help out and that helps us get to offence after that.”
Badly outplayed at the outset, the Blackhawks played methodical, poised and unhurried hockey all night. Even when down 1-0, it seemed only a matter of time before they collected themselves and took control.
“Finding ways to win is important,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You’re not going to be great every night or your best every night. Columbus played a hard-working game, working harder than us tonight. But we got key saves from (Crawford) tonight and that helped us.”
The All-Star Game, of course, was cancelled by the 119-day lockout that reduced the season to 48 games for each team over 99 days.
Steve Mason held his own with 21 saves for the Blue Jackets, who lost their third in a row. A goal by Derick Brassard was waved off in the second period when the officials ruled Nick Foligno interfered with Crawford. That decision caused a sellout crowd of 18,381 to boo throughout the game.
“You never know how a game’s going to end up,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. “(The goal being disallowed) certainly changed the course of the game. At the time, we were down 2-1. It’s a huge play. He (referee Dan O’Rourke) makes the call, he saw what he saw. There’s nothing we can do once he makes the call.”
On the power play after Jamal Mayers went to the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct, Brassard’s slap shot from the point beat Crawford. But O’Rourke immediately waved off the goal. Replays showed Foligno’s right skate was in the crease, although there was no apparent contact between him and Crawford.
Between periods, Foligno said O’Rourke told him that the goal was disallowed because “I had bumped (Crawford) and didn’t give him time to reset.”
The crowd booed lustily at every opportunity the rest of the night.
Quenneville said later that replays showed clearly that it should have been a tying goal.
Mark Letestu gave Columbus a 1-0 lead and Artem Anisimov scored late to make it interesting for the Blue Jackets, who have been outscored 12-3 in their losing skid.
Toews, off of Kane’s second assist of the night, put the Blackhawks up two goals 6:35 into the third after a turnover in the Chicago zone. Letestu’s pass was deflected by Marian Hossa with Kane retrieving it. He fired a blind, quick pass to Toews who was all alone behind the defence. Toews faked left, then right, before flipping the puck past Mason for his third of the year and a 3-1 lead.
Anisimov backhanded in Brandon Dubinsky’s wraparound attempt with 2:19 left in regulation, but the Blue Jackets could not get the equalizer.
Kane now has more than one point in four of the five Chicago games and has two goals and seven assists.
“You can tell he’s good ol’ Kaner,” Toews said. “He’s going to work hard and make plays.”
The Blue Jackets could only think about the goal that didn’t count.
“Overall everybody worked hard,” Mason said. “It’s unfortunate. I’m not sure what the call was on that second goal for us but the guys kept working and we just came up a little short.”
NOTES: Chicago won all six meetings against the Blue Jackets last season and is now 20-12-4 all-time at Nationwide Arena. … The Blackhawks improved to 4-0-0 on the road this season. … The Blue Jackets were without RW Cam Atkinson, who suffered a lower-body injury in camp. He may be out at least a week. … Hossa has 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 29 career games against Columbus while Kane has 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) and Toews 33 (14 goals, 20 assists) in 31 games against the Blue Jackets.
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rustymillerAP