CHICAGO – The team with the NHL’s worst record brings out the best in Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg.
Stalberg scored three goals for his first NHL hat trick and Chicago beat Columbus 5-2 on Tuesday night to end a season-high four-game losing streak and spoil the debut of interim Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards.
Dave Bolland and rookie Ben Smith also scored for Chicago.
Stalberg has scored seven of his 12 goals this season in three games against Columbus, mired at the bottom of the NHL standings at 11-26-5. So it figured he might snap a six-game streak without a point on Tuesday.
“I wish it was like that every night,” Stalberg said. “I hope I can keep going against some other teams.
“Playing them, it seems you get a lot of chances. The puck’s finding me out there.”
The 25-year-old Stalberg clicked on the left side of a line with centre Jonathan Toews and right wing Patrick Kane.
“As a line, we were getting chances and he (Stalberg) was the one telling us, ‘Stay with it, we’re going to get one,'” Toews said. “It’s been a long time since we saw hats rain down at the UC (United Center), but it was a nice thing to see.”
Corey Crawford made 32 saves for Chicago.
Smith was recalled from Rockford of the AHL on Monday to replace injured star forward Patrick Sharp, who broke his left wrist in a 3-2 loss to Detroit on Sunday shortly after scoring his 20th goal.
R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette had goals for Columbus, which lost its second straight and is 2-9-1 in its last 12.
Richards replaced Scott Arniel, who was fired on Monday. The Blue Jackets are off to their worst start since entering the league in 2000-01.
Richards has been with the Blue Jackets as an assistant since the start of the season, so he knows the plight his team faces.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “It’s not me, it’s everyone. It’s the other coaches in the room and the players. … We’re all in this together. There’s work ahead of us.”
Blue Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford stopped 20 shots.
Injury-depleted Columbus played without centre Jeff Carter and defenceman James Wisniewski, both key off-season acquisitions.
Carter, sidelined for 10 games earlier this season, separated his shoulder in a 7-4 loss at Anaheim on Sunday. Wisniewski missed his fifth game with an injured left ankle and is expected to miss several more weeks.
“We’ve dealt with some adversity, but I don’t know if we’re a fragile team,” Richards said. “It’s just been a struggle for a number of reasons.”
Neither team sustained offensive pressure in the scoreless first, although Crawford and Sanford each made a couple of close-in saves.
Marian Hossa set up Bolland’s short-handed goal at 4:12 of the second to open the scoring.
Hossa stole the puck from Columbus defenceman Nikita Nikitin at centre ice, then drove down the right wing boards. He dished to Bolland in the slot, who beat Sanford with a stickhandling move and a shot that clanked in off the right post.
Umberger tied it at 1 on a rebound from the edge of the crease at 7:54 after Crawford stopped David Savard’s shot from the point.
“We were in the game,” Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said. “We were close, but we’ve been close a lot this year.”
Stalberg made it 2-1 with 4:31 left in the second. After getting open in the slot, he took Patrick Kane’s feed from behind the net and beat Sanford with a low shot.
Stalberg’s second goal, scored during a delayed penalty call at 6:32 of the third, made it 3-1. He flipped a rebound over Sanford’s shoulder after Sanford had blocked Brent Seabrook’s drive from the blue line.
Smith extended it to 4-1 just 27 seconds later when he drove down the left wing against Columbus defenceman Marc Methot and backhanded a rising shot over Sanford’s shoulder.
Vermette cut it to 4-2 at 8:32 following a scramble in front of the Chicago net. He slid in a shot just beyond Crawford’s outstretched right pad.
Stalberg completed the scoring on an empty-net goal with 1:40 left to finish his hat trick.
Notes: Richards coached the Minnesota Wild from 2009-11, compiling a 77-71-16 record. … Toews went to the dressing room after being struck in the helmet with a deflected shot early in the first, but returned midway through the period. … Chicago LW Daniel Carcillo sat out his fourth game of a seven-game suspension. … Blackhawks C Markus Kruger missed his seventh game with a concussion. … Columbus C Mark Letestu (hand) missed his third game and was placed on IR. LW Tomas Kubalik was recalled from Springfield of the AHL to take his place.