MONTREAL — The sight of Artem Anisimov being helped off the ice by teammates and team staff at the end of the first period Tuesday night, hopping on one foot down the Zamboni entrance, was a chilling one for the Blackhawks. Anisimov is an often-overlooked player on the talent-laden Hawks roster, but he’s a linchpin of the lineup, and his absence triggers a domino effect that leaves the bottom six in rough shape.
But fortunately for the Hawks, it apparently looked a lot worse than it actually was. Coach Joel Quenneville said he was merely day-to-day and that it was not serious.
“Yeah, it didn’t look great,” Quenneville said after the Hawks’ 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. “Sometimes you never know.”
Anisimov was shoved into the boards, then had his left leg pinned there by Canadiens forward Alexander Radulov, who was falling awkwardly. Just eight minutes earlier, Anisimov had set a career high for points with 45 when he set up Patrick Kane’s 31st goal of the season. Anisimov has 22 goals and 23 assists in 64 games.
But for the second time this month, rookie Nick Schmaltz stepped off the top line and into Anisimov’s spot between Artemi Panarin and Kane to smashing results. Schmaltz had an assist and triggered a few odd-man rushes, Kane had a goal and two assists to take the lead in the NHL scoring race and Panarin had a goal as the Hawks moved back into first place over the Minnesota Wild, who followed their loss in Chicago with a loss in Washington.
Quenneville has been standings-watching all season, but the Hawks insist they have the blinders on.
“We’re just trying to play our best hockey and win games,” said Corey Crawford, who improved to 7-0-2 against his hometown Canadiens with a sparkling 40-save effort. “We want to be in first, but you can’t be looking at that all the time. You just focus on your game.”
Crawford was the focus of another scary moment for the Hawks. Late in the second period on a Montreal power play, he took a slap shot from Shea Weber — who has been clocked at more than 108 mph during NHL skills competitions — off the mask, right between the eyes. Crawford appeared to be knocked woozy for a moment, falling backward to the ice.
“I just tried to go out and take the angle away, and it’s too bad he smoked me there,” said Crawford, who said it was the hardest shot he has ever taken to the mask.
Crawford stayed in the game after a brief visit from Hawks head athletic trainer Mike Gapski. Curiously, the league’s concussion spotters — who are supposed to take such decisions out of the hands of coaches and players — allowed him to stay in the game.
“That was sorted out there when [Gapski] was out there with Crow, the refs were all around,” said Quenneville, who added that Crawford was “tested” by finishing off the penalty kill.
Paul Byron broke up Crawford’s bid for a second career shutout at Bell Centre, and Weber made it 3-2 with a bomb from the point at 16:32. But it was another terrific effort in his hometown.
“Playing here in front of family and friends, it’s always special, and I just enjoy it,” Crawford said.
After Anisimov’s injury, Schmaltz helped make it 2-0 when his pass attempt on a 2-on-1 with Panarin was deflected away by a Montreal defender, only to end up on the stick of Johnny Oduya, who beat Carey Price from the point for his first goal in a Hawks uniform in more than two years.
Schmaltz then whipped a beauty of a centering feed to Panarin 47 seconds into the third period for a 3-0 Hawks lead. It’s obviously a relief for the Hawks that Anisimov won’t be out long. But it’s also good to know that Panarin and Kane won’t skip a beat without him.
“It’s two great players, and they make my job easy,” Schmaltz said. “It’s fun playing with them.”