CHICAGO – The plane ride home as Saturday bled into Sunday was uneasy, but it had only a little to do with turbulence or fishtailing upon hitting the runway.
The Blackhawks were fairly bad in the preceding hours in Nashville, and they sat on that until everyone reconvened the next evening to absorb a predictable message from coach Joel Quenneville: Feel the disappointment and respond immediately against one of the best teams in the NHL.
“We were all embarrassed,” winger Patrick Sharp said. “Thankfully, we had a short turnaround to get back out there to play again.”
A crisp, tight, almost entirely stress-free 5-1 victory over the Sharks was a strong tonic for whatever misfortunes irked the Hawks.
There was scant space and a manageable 24 shots allowed. There was no special-teams swoon against one of the league’s most potent power plays.
Even the regular dose of offense – featuring goals from four different scorers – came with a cherry on top. The Sharks were the league’s third-stingiest team, allowing 2.05 goals per game, and the Hawks piled on nevertheless, led by Sharp’s two scores and the first goal by Kris Versteeg upon his return to the club.
“That’s the sign of a good team, one that always comes back and faces adversity,” Versteeg said. “[Saturday] night wasn’t the result we wanted (7-2 loss). Tonight, that was really a team effort. A lot of guys stepped up with big games.”
This was a juicy rebound, indeed. Brandon Pirri started the scoring in the first period, pouncing on a Patrick Kane shot that deflected off the leg of the Sharks’ Scott Hannan for a 1-0 lead.
Then came the one lapse of the night, significant only because of the response that followed. Corey Crawford absorbed a Joe Pavelski blast in the second period and dropped the puck, watching it scoot behind him for an equalizer.
Answers came in due time. First was Sharp’s one-timer off a beautiful Marcus Kruger cross-ice feed for the go-ahead score, four minutes after Pavelski’s good fortune.
Then in the third period, as the defense continued to constrict space, goals via Jonathan Toews, Versteeg and Sharp’s first career penalty-shot conversion eroded the Sharks’ hope.
“Our ‘D’ started it all,” Crawford said. “We didn’t give them too much. We just carried it into the offense later when they were trying to press and get some goals. We opened up the game and pretty much finished it at the end.”