The Chicago Blackhawks' high-flying offense is the NHL's most prolific this season. However, it took a big effort in the other two zones for Chicago to come out on top of a key Western Conference battle with the visiting Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks came into Friday's tilt at the United Center with the mantle of the hottest team in the league: an 18-1 run through the NHL dating back to Dec. 6. On that day, Anaheim defeated the Hawks 3-2. Friday, Chicago handed the Ducks their first loss of 2014 with a 4-2 decision.
The Blackhawks have been scuffling a bit on the offensive end in recent games. For that reason it was great to see that they are capable of putting the clamps on an elite scoring unit.
Anaheim entered play Friday third in the league behind Chicago and St. Louis with 3.4 goals per contest. For the bulk of the game, however, the Hawks held their guests in check.
The Ducks were challenged at the Chicago blue line and in the neutral zone all evening. The defensemen were aggressive and on this night, it paid off. Anaheim was limited to just 21 shots Friday, over ten short of its season average.
Chicago outdrew the Ducks 35-28 and totally owned the puck passion battle. Chicago's Corsi for percentage, which measures the total shots taken by both teams, was 66.1 to just 33.9 for Anaheim.
The Hawks denied both Anaheim power plays, drawing first blood with a shorthanded goal in the first period. The play began in the Hawks' zone with a nifty pass by Niklas Hjalmarsson and ended with Marian Hossa hitting the back of the net.
None of the other Chicago goals were as pretty. A Kris Versteeg tally later in the opening period and Bryan Bickell's third-period mark gave the Blackhawks a 3-0 advantage.
Anaheim broke out with a goal by Ryan Getzlaf with 6:13 left in the game. Corey Crawford let a Kyle Palmieri wrister from 30 feet out get between his pads to make things interesting. Hossa added an empty netter in the closing seconds to preserve a big win for Chicago.
Crawford likely would like another chance at Pamieri's goal, but he still played another solid game in net for the Blackhawks. Crawford stopped 19 of 21 attempts and picked up his first victory since Nov. 29 after going 0-1-4 since returning from an injury earlier this month.
The Hawks closed the gap between themselves and the streaking Ducks to four points and got the weekend off to a great start. Looming Sunday morning is a visit from the Boston Bruins in a rematch of last spring's Stanley Cup Final.
Chicago has been able to outscore most of its opposition in 2013-14. Friday's win was evidence that the Blackhawks are still able to come up with key defensive efforts. That's good news, as Anaheim is a potential playoff opponent in a few months.