TORONTO — Two games into his NHL career, John Hayden apparently has yet to find a helmet that fits his head and its considerable flow. He’s constantly adjusting his lid, often during game play, even while battling for position in front of the crease.
“I think it’s my fault,” the Yale product said. “I’ve got to figure that out. I just got a haircut, so it can’t be too much hair.”
But while his helmet doesn’t fit, he’s been fitting in the Blackhawks’ lineup just fine.
After a solid debut in Ottawa, Hayden scored the first goal of his NHL career Saturday night, and Ryan Hartman scored the game-winner with 17 seconds left in overtime to give the Hawks a 2-1 victory, which capped a three-game sweep of the eastern Canadian teams.
With the free-falling Wild losing their fourth in a row and seventh in nine games, the Hawks have a five-point lead in the Central Division.
“It was a great trip for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “All three tight games. The games were on the line from the start to the end.”
Hayden has been an important addition since Artem Anisimov was injured in Montreal, entering the lineup deep into a playoff race with no NHL experience. Quenne-ville thought enough of him to throw him in on the top line with Jonathan Toews, and Hayden — a big, physical presence with significant offensive skill — hasn’t wasted the chance.
“I liked him a lot,” Quenneville said. “I thought he was really good the first game and even better tonight. So it’s a good start to his career. … It’s a great compliment that you get that opportunity. It’s even better you take advantage of it.”
It was a beauty of a goal, too. After a terrific Brent Seabrook stretch pass sprung Hayden and Toews on a 2-on-1, Toews slipped a backhanded saucer pass to Hayden, who kicked the puck to his stick and picked the upper-right corner to tie the game at 1.
“It was a pretty nice first goal,” said Hartman, who was the Hawks’ most effective forward all night, with six shots on goal. “To his feet and no stick-handle, just right to the shot. He looks comfortable and we’re glad to have him.”
Said Hayden: “It was awesome. [Toews] was telling me to shoot the puck before the game.”
A more heralded rookie, Auston Matthews, had given the Leafs a 1-0 lead at 8:25 of the first. Matthews had another golden scoring chance late in the second period, but Corey Crawford — who finished with 25 saves and even picked up his first -assist of the season on Hartman’s winner — punched the point-blank shot over the net.
Both teams had their chances in overtime, with Frederik Andersen stoning Patrick Kane on a 2-on-1, and Crawford stopping James van Riemsdyk on a breakaway.
But Hartman, fatigued at the end of a shift, saw a chance for a 2-on-1 with Artemi Panarin, kept it and scored, moving the Hawks closer to earning the top seed in the Western Conference, and keeping the Presidents’ Trophy within reach.
“Even though we were in second place, we were still playing good hockey,” Hartman said. “Minnesota was hot, they were winning, and we were winning, and we couldn’t make any [headway] there. But we continued to stay hot and we’re playing well every night. They’ve lost a few now. But I don’t think we look at that too much. We try to win every night.”
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