COLUMBUS, Ohio – After a long, mostly dismal time on the road, the Chicago Blackhawks are heading home with smiles on their faces.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp each had a goal and two assists as Chicago ended a nine-game road swing with a 6-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.
After losing nine straight—including the first seven games away from home—Chicago has now won two straight.
“As we went along we weren’t thinking of the nine games as a whole. We were just trying to find a way out of that funk that we were in,” Toews said. “It’s huge to snap that losing streak but to come back with a win like we did today I would say was even bigger.
“We need to keep building off those good things we’ve been doing. Go work on getting another two points at home tomorrow and be excited about getting back home.”
The stars were numerous as the Blackhawks turned a slow start into a rout.
Corey Crawford had 33 saves, Patrick Kane added a goal and an assist, Marcus Kruger and Sami Lepisto each scored and Viktor Stalberg continued his magic touch against the Blue Jackets with a goal. Stalberg has scored eight times against Columbus in five games this season—matching his total against the rest of the NHL in 51 games.
For a team that was beaten down just three days earlier, the wins over Columbus and the streak-ending 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers were a burst of sunshine.
“Obviously, the first seven games were tough but sometimes you come out of it with positives,” Kane said of the road trip. “The last two games we can look at it and we played good today, and we played good the last game.
“Hopefully we can get hot here. It’s going to be nice going home today and actually just being there for a while.”
The Blackhawks, challenging several others for one of the final few playoff spots in the West, left immediately after the game for home where they will play their next three games, including ones with division rivals Detroit and St. Louis.
They got a taste of what it’s like to be in a welcoming environment Saturday. The game was played before a sold-out crowd of 18,663—with a high percentage of them rooting for the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks, who averaged fewer than two goals a game in the losing streak, had two in the first period. And didn’t let up.
The Blue Jackets had the upper hand for the first 10 minutes. Lepisto, who played last year in Columbus before being traded at the deadline, passed directly to former teammate Derick Brassard to help the Blue Jackets take a quick lead.
Columbus had a chance to make it 2-0 soon after, but R.J. Umberger’s second shot from in close got past Crawford only to have Brent Seabrook sweep the puck away as it bounced near the goal-line.
Toews tied it with his 29th, sliding the puck between the legs of Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason.
Stalberg—who else?—then gave Chicago the lead for good. Mason mishandled a puck at the back wall and had to scramble back into the net. Meanwhile, Bryan Bickell whisked a centring pass from the left corner, with Stalberg reaching around rookie defenceman John Moore to beat Mason.
In the second, Kane threaded a perfect cross-ice pass to Sharp who was all alone for his 24th of the year. Less than two minutes later, Kane’s wrist shot from the high slot appeared to catch Mason by surprise. He was pulled and replaced with rookie Allen York after stopping 16-of-20 shots.
And the rout was on.
“I thought we got better as the game went on,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “(Toews’) goal certainly helped us, and we took off from there.”
It was just another loss in a season full of them for the Blue Jackets, who have the worst record in the league amid speculation swirling the club is captain and top player Rick Nash.
“I’m only disappointed because the way the game started. I was real happy with the way we came out, the way the first 14 or 15 minutes of the game went. The atmosphere was great, the crowd was great. And then, obviously, the game got away,” said interim coach Todd Richards.
After the Blackhawks’ final goal, he called a timeout to address the team’s attitude—or lack of it.
“It was 6-1 and we weren’t playing,” he said. “We were going through the motions.
“I was embarrassed by the way we were playing.”
NOTES: With nine days until the NHL trading deadline, nine teams had scouts at the game: St. Louis, Carolina, Ottawa, Washington, Detroit, New York Rangers, Dallas, Philadelphia and Montreal. … York, a rookie, has changed teams 12 times this year, mostly as an emergency backup between the minors and Blue Columbus, and has played in only 19 games. … The Blackhawks had scored six goals in four previous games this season.