Blackhawks beat Blues as grinding identity continues to develop
The Hawks rallied from two goals down Friday to beat the Blues 3-2 in overtime, allowing only nine shots on goal after the first intermission.
It seemed silly, in late October, when the Blackhawks started talking about adopting a mindset that winning 1-0 was still winning. Even during the Hawks’ most successful recent era, they never appeared built to thrive in those kinds of games.
But it’s now late November, they already have one such win in the books, and they’re playing exactly the way they must if they’re serious about developing that identity.
The Hawks’ 3-2 overtime victory Friday against the Blues — their fourth straight home win — represented a step forward in that direction.
“The second and third [periods], for us, were the best we’ve played simple hockey and just stuck with the program,” interim coach Derek King said. “And it paid off.”
“We’re a very desperate team, and every time we jumped over the boards, it was [about] guys winning battles,” defenseman Jake McCabe said. “That urgency wasn’t there right away, but we found it in the third [period] and ground out two points. Those type of wins really help your club’s confidence.”
After a sloppy first period in which the Hawks were down 2-0 and allowed 16 shots on goal against Kevin Lankinen, King told his players during the intermission to stay patient.
“It might take to the last minute, might take you till overtime before you get that goal to win the game,” he said. “But you have to be patient. You can’t force stuff. And they did a great job with that.”
Jujhar Khaira cut the deficit to one, Brandon Hagel tipped in a shot by Seth Jones to tie the game with 5:05 left, Lankinen kept all pucks in front of him and Alex DeBrincat buried yet another overtime two-on-one rush with Patrick Kane to win it.
On the ice, though, much of the afternoon was spent playing exceedingly boring — and exceedingly structured — hockey.
Offensively, the Hawks possessed the puck far more than usual, and although they still struggled to penetrate the Blues’ collapsing defense, the game plan of low to high passes leading to shots through traffic eventually translated into Hagel’s goal. Defensively, the Hawks delivered on their recent focus of protecting the slot, allowing only nine shots on goal after the first intermission.
“After the first, we did a good job of getting it in their zone and creating some turnovers,” DeBrincat said.
“[Hagel’s] goal is exactly how we need to play: We get it in deep, steal the puck, put it low-to-high and get a tip in front. That was really good.”
The fans, whose chants digressed to the Bears and Matt Nagy for a time, might not love this approach. But it might be the best blueprint for the Hawks to stay competitive and possibly even climb back into the playoff race.
After all, they’ve won six of their last eight games despite scoring only 16 goals in regulation.
The Hawks’ goaltending has been crucial, but so has their growing comfort level with 1-0, 1-1 and 2-1 scores. They’re not aggressively pinching, risking counterattacks every minute in hopes of producing another chance themselves. They’re not losing their cool when a period doesn’t go well. They’re playing — as King urged — more patiently, with and without the puck.
Even the Hawks’ roster — outside of Kane and DeBrincat — looks increasingly suited to play this style. That’s what happens when Adam Gaudette and Dylan Strome fall out of favor, while Hagel and Kirby Dach excel in top-six roles and Khaira, Reese Johnson, Mike Hardman and others establish themselves as nightly regulars.
The Hawks have, more or less, lacked an identity for years now. Maybe they’re finally creating one — as strange as it seems — as a grind-it-out team.