Erik Gustafsson was a late healthy scratch for the Blackhawks on Friday, forcing coach Jeremy Colliton to scramble all of the defensive pairs at the last minute.
But the new pairs mostly held their own, and the Hawks beat the Predators 2-1 in overtime to earn just their second win in nine games.
“Guys were working hard, [trying to] just forget about the standings,” said Corey Crawford, who made 42 saves behind the makeshift defense. “If we’re doing that, if we’re working hard and playing the right way, I think that’s all you can ask for. Most nights you’ll probably get what you want.”
It was a heartwarming night at the United Center — one that was a long time coming. Alex DeBrincat tied the game in the third period, ending a long power play drought, and then won it with an overtime breakaway. Duncan Keith assisted on both goals, his 600th and 601st career points.
But despite the win, the Hawks’ playoff hopes remain slim at best, and the focus continues to rest on Monday’s trade deadline.
Gustafsson was participating in and joking around as usual during the Hawks’ pregame soccer competition less than an hour before warmups. By the time of actual warmups, the pending free agent was not on the ice with the rest of the team.
Colliton said the decision was made by the Hawks’ hockey operations department shortly before warmups, and Gustafsson’s agent said he was told it was because “calls are being made.” The scratch forced Nick Seeler into the lineup in his stead.
“[We had to] make a quick decision as far as what we’re going to do, and you never know how it’s going to work out,” Colliton said. “But I thought Seeler did well. A lot of guys played extra minutes, and hard minutes, with all the penalties in particular. We did a real good job of handling it.”
Seeler filled Gustafsson’s normal spot next to Connor Murphy, while Slater Koekkoek bumped up alongside Keith and Adam Boqvist dropped down to the third pair next to Olli Maatta.
Koekkoek and Boqvist both actually struggled: the former took three minor penalties, the latter was benched for the last 15 minutes of the game. It’s especially concerning for Boqvist, who has smashed into a rookie wall over the past few weeks.
“He’s a 19-year-old kid who’s going to continue to get better,” Colliton said. “Going through these types of situations is going to make him better in the end.”
Knights trade could affect Hawks
The Golden Knights and Jets’ small trade Friday could end up affecting a potential Gustafsson trade for the Hawks.
Vegas sent overpaid fourth-line forward Cody Eakin to Winnipeg for a conditional fourth-round draft pick, clearing Eakin’s $3.85 million cap hit for the remainder of the season.
Although the trade seems relatively insignificant on paper, it gives the cash-strapped Knights the cap space now to make another trade addition. And coincidentally — or not — the Knights have been the team most connected to Gustafsson in recent days.
Big fan turnout
The nostalgic (and boozy) persuasions of the United Center’s Margaritaville Night theme Friday proved enough to overcome the subpar on-ice product the Hawks have put forth recently.
The attendance of 21,878 for the Hawks-Predators game set a season high, topping the crowd of 21,822 for the Black Friday matinee against the Avalanche in November, and upped the season average to 21,436 through 30 home games.