CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews raced down the ice with his team on the penalty kill and ended up behind the net battling for the puck with Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin early in the first period on Sunday.
Toews poked the puck away from Muzzin, gained possession and found teammate Marian Hossa advancing toward the net. Toews connected with Hossa, and Hossa delivered the puck past Kings goaltender Ben Scrivens.
The short-handed goal put the Blackhawks ahead 1-0 and was the start of a 3-1 victory, but the play’s significance went well beyond that.
The Blackhawks were coming off a 7-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs the night before, and the Blackhawks placed a bulk of the blame for that on their effort. They had lacked the types of hustle plays that Toews provided on the first goal on Sunday.
"He set the tempo basically," Hossa said. "He outbattled the opponent and made a great play."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was critical of his team after Saturday’s loss and said it received what it deserved from the Maple Leafs. He anticipated the Blackhawks would emerge a different team on Sunday, and he wasn’t surprised Toews was behind that.
"It was a good response from last night’s game," Quenneville said. "I thought it was across the board we had a tough game. But a lot of energy in our lineup tonight. Jonny [Toews] led the charge. I thought he had a strong game."
The Blackhawks have often quickly found answers this season when they’ve endured a difficult loss. After losing to the Nashville Predators 7-2 on Nov. 16, they bounced back and defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-1 the next day. After falling to the Colorado Avalanche 5-1 on Nov. 19, the Blackhawks beat the Winnipeg Jets 6-3 two days later.
"It’s nice to see we can rebound from that," Toews said. "It doesn’t take us long to get back to our good habits."
Hossa’s goal not only erased the cloud of the Maple Leafs loss, but it also proved the Kings aren’t invincible. The Kings came into the United Center having gone 18 consecutive games without allowing a first-period goal. They were also riding a six-game winning streak and led the league with a 1.9 goals-against average.
The first goal loosened the lid, and the Blackhawks burst it open with two more first-period goals. As pleased as Quenneville was with a 3-0 advantage after one period, he was also glad the Blackhawks had to fight to preserve that lead the rest of the way. The Blackhawks had won three games easily prior to the loss to the Maple Leafs, and Quenneville thought a tighter game would do his team good.
"I think we needed a tough game and a dangerous game and a dangerous opponent," Quenneville said.
Quenneville was asked after the win whether he could see any similarities between this season’s team and the previous two Blackhawks teams that won Stanley Cups.
"I like our team," Quenneville said. "I think we have a lot of the same characteristics that were important when we did win the Cup, a lot of the same people. The core group that had the privilege of winning the two Cups is in place. They lead the way. Their attitude and approach from game to game puts us in the right place. They prioritize the importance of being good every single night or every shift. It’s contagious."
Sunday was further proof of that.