Blackhawks ground high-flying Jets for fourth straight victory
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba — For those not immersed in the daily minutiae of the Blackhawks’ season, the team still carries plenty of cachet, no matter what the standings say.
So even though the Jets were the team comfortably in the playoff picture and the Hawks were the team trying to claw their way back in — a dramatic role reversal from recent seasons — the Jets still looked at their Central Division rivals as a measuring stick.
‘‘For sure,’’ defenseman Tyler Myers said before the game Thursday. ‘‘Even with some of their tough goings this year, I think what they’ve done the last four, five, six years [means] they have a certain pedigree to them.’’
For the first time in a long time, that pedigree was evident. The Hawks scored three times on their first five shots and grounded the Jets, who had been 10-0-1 in their last 11 home games, in a 5-1 victory.
So strange as it might seem for the perennial power Hawks to use the perennial also-ran Jets to make a so-called statement, they certainly sent a message that they might not be washed up just yet.
‘‘Big win,’’ winger Patrick Kane said. ‘‘Probably the biggest win this year, coming against maybe one of the hottest teams in the league. . . . You beat a team like this, it kind of proves to ourselves that, hey, maybe we’re right there.’’
Suddenly, the Hawks have won four games in a row and are only four points behind the Jets. And while their home victories against the bottom-feeding Sabres, Coyotes and Panthers were tougher than they probably should have been, the triumph against the Jets was thoroughly impressive and featured the speed, skill and swagger that gave the Hawks all that cachet in the first place.
Barely 10 minutes into the game, the Hawks were up 3-0 on goals by Vinnie Hinostroza, Tommy Wingels and Nick Schmaltz and had surrendered one measly shot on goal. Kane made it 4-0 midway through the second off a spinning, no-look pass from Schmaltz, who didn’t know Kane was open on the far side but had a hunch he would be.
Coach Joel Quenneville lamented the Hawks’ response to the Jets’ third-period push, with goalie Corey Crawford (27 saves) making a few big stops after Nikolaj Ehlers’ power-play goal early on. But Michal Kempny, playing in his first game in more than a month, scored his first goal of the season less than three minutes later to seal it.
Crawford called it the Hawks’ ‘‘best effort this year and our best overall game.’’ There’s a long way to go, of course, but the Hawks are trending in the right direction, as Quenneville likes to say.
Before the game, a Winnipeg reporter asked hometown hero Jonathan Toews whether he got the sense that the Jets were on the way up while the Hawks were on the way down. Toews bristled at the question.
‘‘Not at all,’’ he said. ‘‘People can say what they want. The belief is always in your locker room. We have a lot of experience in here, and I think it’s a great thing. We know what we’re capable of, but we also know how hard we have to work to stay on top and to remain one of the best teams. . . .
‘‘For us, there’s no doubt there’s a tremendous belief, and we know there’s a ton of potential, even though maybe we’re not showing it as much as we know we can. People will talk and say whatever they want. It doesn’t bother us one way or the other.’’
That defiant belief has been there all season. On Thursday, the Hawks finally backed it up.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.