As the Blackhawks finished March and entered April without the customary buildup to the postseason, they have had to get their big-game fix from opponents. For a franchise used to contending for the Stanley Cup, the spoiler role is a total letdown.
As the Blackhawks finished March and entered April without the customary buildup to the postseason, they have had to get their big-game fix from opponents. For a franchise used to contending for the Stanley Cup, the spoiler role is a total letdown. The juice is much less intoxicating.
At least games like Wednesday night’s against the Blues offer the Hawks’ young prospects experience against a team in playoff mode fighting for its life.
“Big boy hockey,” Blues coach Mike Yeo called it before the game.
And, lest anyone forget, the Blackhawks also have a few guys familiar with that.
Duncan Keith provided the reminder. His power-play goal with 8.5 seconds remaining lifted the Blackhawks to a 4-3 victory that erased the Blues’ margin for error in their push for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
“We did a good job of matching that intensity,” Keith said. “For us, it’s more fun to play in a game like that. There was something on the line, so it was maybe a little easier to get some of the fire going.”
Goals from rookies Blake Hillman and Alex DeBrincat overcame a 3-1 deficit and ultimately caused the Blues to miss out on two points that would have vaulted them over the Avalanche into the final wild-card spot with two games remaining. They visit the Hawks at the United Center on Friday.
The Hawks rival is reeling after taking only one point from the last four games. The Blues appeared to be in control Wednesday, outshooting the Blackhawks 29-15 through two periods. But finishing the game proved too big for them.
“Nerves and bad decisions,” Yeo said. “I felt that we were a little bit tight in the third period. The puck decisions we made were very poor. If you’re going to play nervous, then you better play smart.”
The Hawks fell behind by following a familiar script. Sloppiness with the puck, inconsistent defense and average goaltending. Connor Murphy and Jan Rutta giveaways resulted in goals.
Offensive contributions from rookies, though, kept the Blackhawks in the game. Dylan Sikura assisted on Andreas Martinsen’s goal, his third assist in three career games.
Hillman, playing in just his second NHL game, scored a short-handed goal midway through the second period on a slapshot from above the left circle. Nick Schmaltz laid the puck off to him on the rush and the 22-year-old let it rip.
“It was probably the hardest one-timer I’ve ever taken in my life,” Hillman said. “I just kind of closed my eyes, and it went through a couple of bodies.”
In the third period, DeBrincat tied it with his team-leading 28th goal of the season. His quick release from the right circle beat Jake Allen for his third goal in the last four games.
“He finds a way to get his shot through,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s a sneaky shot.”
With the game tied and the Blues trying to hang on for a point, the Hawks veterans decided it.
Patrick Sharp drew a holding penalty driving to the net with two minutes left in the game. Then, with regulation almost expired, Keith scored on a one-timer from DeBrincat.
Keith entered the night with only one goal on 183 shots this season, on pace for an NHL record for lowest single-season non-zero shooting percentage.
“I just saw that lane open,” Keith said. “I just tried to get all I could on it.”
It was a big-boy moment, the type hockey fans in Chicago will sorely miss later this spring.
Rich Campbell’s three stars
1. Duncan Keith, Hawks: Had one goal on 183 shots before winner.
2. Andreas Martinsen, Hawks: A goal and a team-high five shots.
3. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues: Breakaway goal and an assist
Up next: Vs. Blues, 7:30 p.m. Friday; NBCSCH, WGN-AM 720.
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