Blackhawks show some much-needed urgency in victory over Oilers
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Duncan Keith once memorably dismissed pregame speeches as something out of a Disney movie, a screenwriter’s fantasy that rarely, if ever, happens in an NHL dressing room. But before Sunday’s matinee against the Edmonton Oilers, Jonathan Toews had something to say to his teammates, who were floundering in last place in the Central Division, without their No. 1 goalie and No. 2 center for a disconcertingly indeterminate amount of time. “A terrible spot,” Joel Quenneville deemed it a couple hours earlier.
“He said, ‘Let’s treat every game going up to [next week’s bye week] as a playoff game,'” Vinnie Hinostroza recalled. “‘If we go into it with that mindset and win every period, why can’t we go on a little run here before and carry the momentum after the break?’”
That urgency had been missing for much of the season — especially in a poor start against Vegas two nights earlier to kick off a stretch of eight home games in a nine-game stretch. But that desperation finally was evident in Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Oilers.
Whether it was Jan Rutta making a diving one-handed poke-check to knock a golden scoring chance off the stick of Milan Lucic, or Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels throwing their bodies around in the corners, or Toews muscling his way to the net to set up Brandon Saad’s insurance goal in the waning seconds of the second period, the Hawks looked like a team that finally realizes just how urgent its situation is, and just how hard they’ll have to play to claw their way back into the playoff picture.
“It’s not too hard to get on a roll,” Hinostroza said. “We have a lot of great players in here, and if everyone’s chipping in, we’re a scary team.”
Just about everyone chipped in Sunday. The Hawks got goals from three lines, and energy from their fourth. They got a 32-save effort from Anton Forsberg, his first win since Nov. 11. They got a somewhat tighter defensive effort against the speedy Oilers. And most importantly, they got two much-needed points, taking advantage of a lousy team the way good teams are supposed to do.
The Oilers, a trendy preseason pick to reach the Stanley Cup Final in Connor McDavid’s third season, have been a disaster this season, an even bigger disappointment than the Hawks. They’ve now been outscored 20-3 in their last five games.
The Hawks jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a pair of quick goals by Nick Schmaltz (his 10th) and Alex DeBrincat (his 14th, tying him with his former Erie Otters linemate McDavid). A Darnell Nurse redirect cut it to 2-1 at 4:12 of the second. But Saad made it 3-1 with less than 10 seconds left, sweeping in the puck after a vintage power move to the net by Toews — protecting the puck with one arm and holding off Ryan Strome with the other. Toews has three goals and four assists in his last four games.
“That’s what [the two of us] need to do — big bodies protecting the puck,” Saad said. “When we get away from that, we don’t have success. We did a good job [today].”
Jordan Oesterle iced it with a goal midway through the third period, his third goal in five games and his second in as many games against his former team. It was the Hawks’ second strong 60-minute effort in three games, going back to a 5-2 road win over the Rangers. The Hawks are a modest 3-1-1 in their last five games.
It’s a good start, but it’s going to take a lot more desperate efforts like this one if the Hawks want to enter the bye week next Monday in a less unnerving spot in the standings. The second half of the season starts with four games in six days, starting in Ottawa on Tuesday. Buckle up.
“[It’ll be] even more intense than the first half,” Quenneville said. “Which has been pretty intense.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus