NHL recap — March 20, 2014

Joel Quenneville

Joel Quenneville picked up his 700th win Wednesday – file photo by Lewis Bleiman

NEW YORK – The Chicago Blackhawks have been playing somewhat listlessly over the last few weeks and have suffered by falling from the top of the Central Division and been replaced by the St Louis Blues. On Wednesday, the Blackhawks were presented with the opportunity to make a statement for themselves and their coach; Joel Quenneville was within one victory of the 700 mark.

Chicago’s Corey Crawford stopped all 23 shots he faced as the Blackhawks defeated the Blues, 4-0.

“Tonight we knew it was going to be a tough matchup,” Crawford said. “They’re the top team in the League. It was physical. It seems like it’s always physical against these guys. The first 10 minutes, everyone was just running around trying to hit somebody to trying to avoid a hit. It felt like a playoff game, a playoff-type atmosphere. Our crowd was into it and we played really solidly.”

Duncan Keith broke the scoreless tie with less than a minute to go in the first period and that was all Crawford and the Hawks needed.

“They’re the Stanley Cup champions for a reason,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They know when to turn the temperature up. It’s our responsibility … no matter what happens in the regular season, everybody in the West, if you’re going to give them a go, you’re going to have to dial it up. They’re getting ready. And it’s up to us to get ready. That’s the task … good on them.”

The value of the win was tarnished when it was learned that Patrick Kane was injured in the second period and will be out of the lineup for three weeks.

“Certainly he’s a special player and we’ll have to work our way through it, knowing what he brings to our team,” said Quenneville, who left open the possibility that Kane’s regular season might be over. “It’s definitely a huge loss for us, but we’ve been fortunate as far as not getting hit too hard [with injuries]. You’re going to get tested at some point.”

Once the Hawks had the lead they went back to their dominating style of play and swarmed the Blues net.http://

“I don’t know if it wasn’t there or we didn’t put forth the necessary effort,” Blues captain David Backes said. “They played hard and were in a groove from playing [Tuesday] night. We didn’t respond real well. Lesson learned. We beat them three times this year. They were hungry, looking for revenge, and brought it up to a level and we needed to match it and we didn’t. The result is on the scoreboard.”

In Toronto, the visiting Lightning were propelled by Steve Stamkos’ hat trick in a 5-3 win over the Leafs.

“That felt great,” Stamkos said. “We were kind of joking about it before the game that I didn’t think I had a multigoal game here in Toronto, so I was due. I’m obviously pretty excited to do it in front of friends and family. I was a little disappointed there were no hats on the ice, but I’ll take it anyway.”

Ben Bishop backed up Stamkos’ offense in making 36 saves.

The Maple Leafs also lost defenseman Paul Ranger was taken off the ice on a stretcher. He was boarded by Lightning forward Alex Killorn. Reports were quick to announce that Ranger was “stable, conscious and alert” at a hospital.

“It’s one of those textbook hitting from behind. That’s what it looked like,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “But I didn’t really get a look if he turned into him or if the puck bobbled in his feet or any of that; I didn’t really get a look to that. I was just more interested in seeing the well-being of the player, and that was it.”

Stamkos has been slowly returning to the form he demonstrated prior to breaking his leg in a match with Boston and Wednesday may be seen as the night he made the jump to full recovery.http://

“There are some special players out there that just find a way. They have that innate ability to rise to the occasion,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “For [Stamkos] to come back in here to his hometown and do what he did tonight, he basically put the team on his shoulders.”

In Vancouver, Eddie Lack stopped 30 shots en route to a 2-0 blanking of the Nashville Predators.

“It was a must win for us,” said captain Henrik Sedin, who set up both goals. “If we lose and things don’t go our way the next couple days we are out of it. Now we get a few days of scoreboard watching and hope for losses for teams around us and we’re back in it.”

For Nashville, it was another frustrating night of limited offense in support of their netminders.

“We’ve got to get some goals for our goaltender,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “Carter Hutton had a good game for us. We need some production from our forwards. We’ve got virtually zero. If our defense aren’t scoring, we’re not scoring it seems like.”

Interestingly the Predators benched Michael Del Zotto for the game. Del Zotto was acquired from the New York Rangers ahead of the trade deadline and perhaps it was one of the few reasoned player moves the Rangers have made.http://

“I just need him to be more consistent,” Trotz said. “He’s played pretty good but his game slipped and our coaching staff has been talking to him about making really solid decisions, solid plays and he’s gotten away from that a little bit. I have high expectations for Del Zotto so when he doesn’t meet those sometimes you just need to sit out and watch how the game is played. Hopefully it got his attention.”

WEDNESDAY’S RESULTS
(Home Team in Caps)
Tampa Bay 5, TORONTO 3
CHICAGO 4, St. Louis 0
WINNIPEG 5, Colorado 4 (OT)
VANCOUVER 2, Nashville 0

CRAWFORD, BLACKHAWKS STYMIE BLUES
Corey Crawford (23 saves) recorded his 10th career shutout and second of the season to lead the Blackhawks to their fourth victory in their past seven outings (4-2-1).

* With the win, the Blackhawks (40-15-15, 95 points) leapfrogged the Avalanche (44-20-6, 94 points) for second place in the Central Division and moved within six points of the Blues (47-15-7, 101 points) for the top spot in the division/conference.

* Crawford improved to 10-2-3 with a 2.28 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts in 15 career appearances versus the Blues, including a 7-0-2 mark at United Center. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his .767 points percentage is the highest by any active goaltender who has played in at least eight games against the Blues.

* Duncan Keith scored his second game-winning goal of the season, establishing a career high (69 GP). He had four game-winning goals in 607 career contests entering 2013-14.

* Keith leads all defensemen and ranks fourth in the NHL with 50 assists this season. His 55 points also place second among blueliners.

* Patrick Sharp assisted on each of Chicago’s first two goals for his 15th multi-point game of the season. He now has 1-9—10 in his past nine outings and is tied for ninth in the NHL with 29-39—68 this season, three points shy of his career high established in 2010-11.

* With the victory, Joel Quenneville became the third coach in NHL history to reach 700 wins. Only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Al Arbour (782) have more head-coaching victories.

* Prior to the contest, the Blackhawks honored Michal Handzus for playing in his 1,000th NHL game. The 37-year-old native of Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, who was originally selected by the Blues in the fourth round (101st overall) of the 1995 NHL Draft, has 185-295—480 during his 15-season career.

STAMKOS’ NATURAL HAT TRICK POWERS LIGHTNING
Trailing 2-1 late in the first period, Steven Stamkos scored three consecutive goals for his seventh career hat trick and second of the season to power the Lightning to their fourth straight victory.

* With the win, the Lightning (38-24-7, 83 points) leapfrogged the idle Canadiens (38-25-7, 83 points) for second place in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning have one game in hand, but the Canadiens lead in ROW (MTL: 33, TB: 32).

* Stamkos’ three goals came in a 12:33 span over the first and second periods. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, those were the fastest three goals of Stamkos’ career, besting his previous mark of 18:40 established Feb. 17, 2009 (his only other natural hat trick).

* Stamkos now has 5-2—7, including two game-winning goals, in has past four outings and 13-12—25 in 20 career games against the Maple Leafs.

* Valtteri Filppula collected two assists to extend his point streak to six games (2-8—10). He leads the Lightning with 22-29—51 in 64 games this season.

* Tyler Johnson scored his 22nd goal of the season to move within one of the franchise record for goals by a rookie (Stamkos: 23 in 2008-09).

* Ben Bishop made 36 saves, including 21 in the third period, to improve to 33-11-6 with a 2.13 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and five shutouts in 54 appearances this season.

WHEELER LIFTS JETS IN OVERTIME
The Avalanche fought back from three one-goal deficits, but Blake Wheeler scored at 1:42 of overtime to lift the Jets to their second victory in their last three games.

* With the win, the Jets (32-30-9, 73 points) moved within four points of the idle Coyotes (33-25-11, 77 points) for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

* Wheeler now has 1-7—8 in his past four games. He leads the Jets with 24 goals and 59 points this season, five shy of his career high established in 2011-12.

* Andrew Ladd scored twice to eclipse the 20-goal mark for the third time in the past four seasons. He also reached the 50-point milestone for the third time in his NHL career.

ROOKIES LEAD CANUCKS PAST PREDATORS
Eddie Lack made 30 saves for his fourth career shutout and Nicklas Jensen scored his first career game-winning goal to lead the Canucks to their fourth victory in their past seven games.

* With the win, the Canucks (32-30-10, 74 points) moved within three points of the idle Coyotes (33-25-11, 77 points) for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

* Lack improved to 13-14-4 with a 2.34 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and four shutouts in 34 appearances this season. His four shutouts are a franchise record for a rookie and lead all first-year goaltenders in 2013-14.

* Jensen now has 3-2—5 in seven games, including 3-1—4 in his past four outings, since being recalled from Utica (AHL) March 7.

LOOSE PUCKS
The Blues suffered their first regulation loss to a divisional opponent this season, snapping their franchise-record streak at 22 games (20-1-2) . . . Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel scored his team-leading 35th goal of the season, which ranks third in the NHL. He now is two goals shy of his career high, established in 2011-12 . . . Avalanche forward Jamie McGinn posted an assist to extend his point streak to five games (3-4—7) . . . Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak collected two helpers while celebrating his 28th birthday . . . Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom (0-2—2) recorded his 200th career assist . . . Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg skated in his 400th NHL game . . . Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman played “Shoot the Puck” between periods at the Blues-Blackhawks game.

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