Patrick Sharp lifts Blackhawks over Rangers, out of last place

SHARE Patrick Sharp lifts Blackhawks over Rangers, out of last place
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Jonathan Toews shoot on the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist during the first period Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK — When the Blackhawks went to sleep Tuesday night, they did so in a strange and unnerving place. Not midtown Manhattan.

Last place.

Now, that comes with a few caveats. They had played fewer games than the other six teams in the Central Division. They were above .500. They had a positive goal differential. And they were a mere 10 points out of second place with four games in hand on the Blues. It’s not quite good, but it’s not quite dire.

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But the fact is, the Hawks entered the game Wednesday against the Rangers at the bottom of the division for the first time this late in the season since January 2008 —the rookie year of both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. And they didn’t like it.

“When it’s the way it is now, definitely it adds some urgency,” Toews said before the game. “You’ve got to think about that and let that sink in. At the same time, whether we’re at the bottom or the top of our division, you’ve just got to go out there and focus on winning every game.”

Two points at least jumped them ahead of the Avalanche after they beat the Rangers 5-2 in an impressive team effort. If not for some brilliant goaltending by Henrik Lundqvist (the last two goals were empty-netters), it could have been a lot more lopsided.

Patrick Sharp scored the winning goal early in the third period, his first goal since Nov. 27, with a beautiful top-shelf shot.

“You get a chance like that in the game, you gotta make it count, especially in a tie game,” Sharp said. “So it was good to put one in.”

The ever-streaky Hawks are now 2-0-1 since journeyman Jeff Glass (23 saves) made his NHL debut in Edmonton.

The new-look top line of Toews centering Brandon Saad and Vinnie Hinostroza — the latest right wing to try to fill the skates of the struggling Richard Panik — was terrific right off the opening puck drop. And they were rewarded at the 16:09 mark of the first period when Toews perfectly played the carom of Jordan Oesterle’s shot off the end boards, deftly passing it between his legs to Hinostroza, who stuffed it under Henrik Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead.

The Rangers responded quickly, however, with Nick Holden’s blast from the top of the right circle skirting a Duncan Keith screen and getting through Glass.

The Hawks reclaimed the lead at 8:56 of the second off a strong move to the net by Nick Schmaltz, who got past Brady Skjei and nudged the puck through Lundqvist and into the crease, where Marc Staal knocked it in —thanks in large part to a savvy shove from Ryan Hartman. But penalties plagued the Hawks all night, and Glass had only himself to blame for Mika Zibanejad’s equalizer at 11:32 of the second, as it was Glass’ delay-of-game penalty that put the Rangers on a 5-on-3 power play for the goal.

After two straight shoddy defensive efforts, including giving up 19 shots on goal in the first period in both Edmonton and Calgary, the Hawks were much better against the Rangers. They dominated the puck and allowed just 14 shots on goal through two periods, while tallying 26 themselves. But the penalties, combined with the brilliant, occasionally fortunate play of Lundqvist, kept the Rangers in the game.

But Sharp gave the Hawks a 3-2 lead at 2:24 of the third period. It was his first goal since Thanksgiving weekend and just his second since Oct. 14, but it was vintage Sharp. Toews and Patrick Kane added empty-netters in the final minute.

“That was real good for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Long trip, coming back from the West Coast, but I liked the response and a lot of good things. We had a lot of speed in the game, had a lot of pucks first, and I thought we did a lot of good things. More undisciplined than we’ve been maybe in any game and found a way to kill penalties.”

Follow me on Twitter

@MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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