Blackhawks win for 9th time in 10 games
You won't find assistant coach Mike Kitchen's name anywhere on the scoresheet of the Blackhawks' 4-2 victory over St. Louis at the United Center on Sunday.
But according to goalie Scott Darling, who was starting for the sick Corey Crawford, he deserves an awfully big assist.
Before the game, Kitchen made a big point to Darling and the rest of the Hawks that St. Louis likes to use open-side plays, and that's exactly what transpired just 13 minutes in when Alexander Steen fed Paul Stastny for what looked to be an easy goal.
"I swear I heard (Kitchen's) voice in my head when the play was developing," said Darling, who somehow extended his 6-foot-6 frame and whacked the shot out of harm's way. "That was desperation, reaching, hoping, wishing, trying to get over there and get some body parts in the way."
Darling, who made 30 saves and improved to 15-5-2, thwarted two more high-quality chances by Stastny in the third period, and the Hawks won for the ninth time in 10 games to creep within 1 point of first-place Minnesota.
Coach Joel Quenneville's squad raced to a 2-0 lead in the first 11:44 on goals by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but St. Louis stormed back on tallies by Magnus Paavarvi and Alex Pietrangelo. The Hawks prevailed when Artem Anisimov beat Jake Allen with 5:20 remaining, and Tanner Kero added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds left.
Just before Kero's score, Ryan Hartman laid out to block a blast by Pietrangelo. Darling went right up to Hartman afterward and told the rookie, "Great job."
"It's not easy to do what these guys do, what Hammer (Niklas Hjalmarsson) does every game," Darling said. "I flinch sometimes and I've got all the pads on. These guys are warriors, laying out in front of pucks like that, especially at a crucial point in the game. It was a huge play, and as a goalie you love that."
Kane's goal was his 24th of the season and 16th in the last 30 games.
Toews now has 24 points in the last 14 contests, while linemate Richard Panik extended his career-best point streak to six games by assisting on Toews' tally 4:18 into the game.
Toews said there's no competition between his smoking-hot line and Kane's, but Kane said, hey why not?
"You see Jonny get hot, you want to follow him and he's been doing a great job of leading us," Kane said. "They score on the first shift last game, I think they might have scored on their second shift in today's game. They get that lead for us, you want to follow the way, you want to make sure you're playing the right way, make sure you're not cheating too much offensively. But at the same time, you want to contribute, too."
This was by no means a perfect game by the Hawks as Trevor van Riemsdyk had an awfully tough day, with a turnover and a penalty leading to both St. Louis goals. Hjalmarsson, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, was clearly missed.
Still, the Hawks had 26 shots on goal in the first 28 minutes and basically controlled the action.
"Overall that was a pretty solid game," Toews said. "We seemed to finish hard and finish the right way. Nice to get a big goal by Arty and get the two points in 60 minutes instead of having to go to overtime."