Patrick Sharp celebrated his 32nd birthday by picking up his third career hat trick, and Jonathan Toews had two goals and two assists as the Chicago Blackhawks throttled the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 7-2 on Friday night at the United Center.
Duncan Keith picked up three assists in the game, and Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg also had goals as the Blackhawks came out of the Christmas break with a huge victory.
The Blackhawks seemed to be crackling with energy in the early stages of the game, as their first line led the charge with an aggressive forecheck and some great puck movement on offense. That effort ended up paying off in a big way about 12 minutes into the game, as Duncan Keith’s stretch pass found Sharp at the Avs’ blue line, and the birthday boy fired home the shot past Jean Sebastien Giguere’s right pad to put Chicago up 1-0.
That pressure by the top line continued just a few minutes later as the Blackhawks scored again. Marian Hossa and Toews went into the corner in the Avs’ zone, and ended up winning a ferocious puck battle. Hossa then brought the puck to the front of the net, and Toews followed up and fired home a shot over Giguere’s glove to extend the Hawks’ lead to 2-0.
On a late power play in the first period, the Blackhawks once again used puck possession and great movement to score. Patrick Kane made a nice play initially to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and after the puck cycled through Keith at the point, Sharp found a seam, skated in, and blasted a shot past Giguere from the slot to put the Blackhawks up 3-0 at the end of the first period.
For anyone expecting the Hawks to slow down coming out of the break, they were proven wrong less than 30 seconds into the second period. It was Toews again going to work in the corner of the ice, and the puck eventually found its way to Niklas Hjalmarsson at the point. He pounded a shot in on net, and when Sharp got inside position, he was able to get his stick on the puck and flip a backhanded shot into the goal for the hat trick and a 4-0 lead.
As if that wasn’t enough production from Sharp, he ended up making one of the most spectacular two-way plays of his career a short time later. When Matt Duchene broke out on a breakaway, it was Sharp who chased him down, lifted his stick, and fired a gorgeous rink-length pass all the way to Toews at the Avs’ blue line, who deked Giguere out of his pads and made it a 5-0 game.
The Avalanche weren’t ready to give up without a fight though, and it was their captain leading the way. Gabriel Landeskog, the youngest captain in the NHL, won a puck battle in the corner, and feathered a tremendous pass in front of Antti Raanta’s crease. Paul Stastny picked the puck up, and after his first attempt was denied he popped home the second one to get the Avalanche on the board.
Perhaps tired of being overshadowed by the Blackhawks’ first line, the second line really came out to play after that Colorado goal, and it was Handzus who benefitted from the tremendous rush and puck movement that followed. Versteeg got the puck along the goal line, and put a pass onto Kane’s stick. After skating across the goal mouth to draw Giguere over, Kane then passed the puck to a wide open Handzus, who tapped home the easy goal to extend the Blackhawks’ lead back to five at 6-1.
On another rush a short time later, it was Versteeg who made the play again. On this one, he and Keith had a nice give and go, and when Versteeg got the puck back in the slot, he ripped a wrist shot past Giguere to close out the second period with a bang as the Hawks took a 7-1 lead.
The Avalanche did get one last goal, as Landeskog again showed the way for his team. With some quick skating, he was able to get in behind Brent Seabrook, and PA Parenteau’s pass over Keith’s stick found Landeskog in stride as he beat Raanta with a forehand-to-backhand deke and scored to narrow the deficit to 7-2, but the Avalanche couldn’t get any closer.
The Blackhawks won’t have long to savor their victory, as they will have to travel down to St. Louis to take on the rival Blues in a Saturday night Central Division showdown.