DENVER — Brent Seabrook is known for his big shot and his booming hits, not for his footspeed. But late in the second period Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, some 13 hours after he boarded a plane from Chicago to the thin air of Denver following three days away from the rink, Seabrook managed to chase down Colorado speedster Matt Duchene and foil his attempt to tie the game on a breakaway.
“I don’t know about that,” said a sheepish Seabrook. “Got some momentum with all the turkey in my belly. It just propelled me.”
Seabrook did most of the propelling on Saturday night, leading the weary and rusty Blackhawks to a 5-2 victory over the Avalanche — snapping their three-game win streak and six-game point streak — on a most unusual and taxing day.
Because of the mandated three-day Christmas break, the Hawks couldn’t fly into Denver on Friday night, as they normally would. And because they spent three days off the ice, Joel Quenneville wouldn’t cancel the morning skate, as he normally would when the team travels on a game day. So for many players who went home for the holiday, it was an exhausting “break.” Ben Smith, for example, flew home to Connecticut on Wednesday. He then flew back to Chicago on Friday before getting up early Saturday morning for the flight to Denver, the morning skate, a quick nap, a game, and a late-night flight home that was scheduled to land in Chicago sometime around 3 a.m.
“A little crazy, but worth it,” Smith said. “You don’t get to see your family too much, or be home too much, during the season.”
The Blackhawks appeared to pay the price early on. It took more than seven minutes for them even to get a shot on goal, their first two power plays were abysmal, and the play was scattered at both ends. But the Hawks — Seabrook, in particular — eventually found their legs and pulled away.
With the game tied 2-2 late in the second period, Seabrook blasted a shot past Calvin Pickard for a power-play goal. About three minutes later, he caught Duchene from behind on what proved to be a huge play. Then, in the third period, he drew a penalty that led to birthday boy Patrick Sharp’s insurance goal (also on the power play), and helped kill off a 5-on-3 Avs power play to seal the win.
“[First] 10 minutes was hard to watch,” Quenneville said. “And then after that, we did a lot of good things. And [Seabrook] was probably the one guy that turned it around 180 degrees.”
Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane (who added an empty netter) scored to neutralize goals by Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson in a messy first period. Then, with MacKinnon in the box at 13:14 of the second, Seabrook scored his seventh goal of the season, just two off his career high.
“Things are going in,” he said. “I didn’t try to pick that corner. I just shot it as hard as I could and hoped I didn’t hit anybody. It was good.”
Last season, Colorado had to fly to Chicago on Dec. 27. Because of the time change, a morning skate wasn’t feasible. Not surprisingly, after three and a half days off the ice, they got blown out 7-2. That’s why Quenneville wanted a morning skate, difficult as it was.
“I think it’s good to get on the ice and feel the puck again, instead of getting a little bit of a shock right before the game starts,” Kris Versteeg said.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was a small price to pay, Versteeg said.
“We get the three days off that we wanted and that’s meant a lot to us,” he said. “That’s all you can ask for. It’s a job, and you realize that in a 185-day stretch, to get three days off is pretty special. So I think we’ll take that and not complain about it.”
Especially when you win, anyway.