By Chris Kuc, Chicago Tribune reporter
No more Olympics, outdoor games or trade deadlines.
All that remains for the Blackhawks is a final sprint to the finish of the regular season.
“There are no more distractions,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “The only thing you have to focus on now is to put yourself in as good a situation as possible going into the playoffs. Even though it has been a lot of fun having all the other stuff, it’s going to be nice to just focus on playing some hockey now.
The Hawks played some impressive hockey Thursday night against the Blue Jackets and came away with a 6-1 triumph before a crowd of 21,179 at the United Center. The distraction-free victory was the defending Stanley Cup champions’ second in their last five games as they continue their dogfight with the Blues and Avalanche for the top spot in the Central Division.
In an effort to ignite a stagnant offense, coach Joel Quenneville inserted Andrew Shaw on the top line and the forward responded with two goals. Linemate Jonathan Toews also scored twice while Brandon Bollig and Bryan Bickell each found the back of the net.
Marcus Kruger and Brent Seabrook each added two assists to help provide plenty of support for goaltender Corey Crawford. Ryan Johansen scored for the Jackets but it wasn’t nearly enough as Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t make it out of the second period and suffered the loss in goal.
“It’s good for us to get back on track,” Toews said. “That’s a hard-working, simple team that doesn’t give up much and we went out there and worked hard. We skated and wore them down and eventually got plenty of scoring chances.”
It was the Hawks’12th consecutive victory over the Blue Jackets, who moved from the Western Conference to the East with NHL realignment. That left the teams to meet only twice this season and the Hawks didn’t waste the opportunity to thump their former conference mates in the first matchup. The victory kept the Hawks within two points of the Central-leading Blues and three ahead of the third-place Avalanche.
After Bollig and Johansen traded goals early on, the Hawks (37-13-14) stepped on the gas with five consecutive scores, with Shaw’s first of the night starting it off a terrific stretch pass from Sheldon Brookbank.
It was only the second time in a career that has spanned 147 games that Shaw has been on a line with Toews and the scrappy forward took advantage. Along with Brandon Saad’s assist, the line combined for five points.
“I hadn’t played with Johnny since my first NHL game,” Shaw said. “Saad I’ve played with all year and the line worked pretty well.”
Added Quenneville: “They had several offensive zone shifts, some real nice plays and some nice finish as well. Shaw’s (first) … was a heck of a play from a pass up the ice and the way he received it and the shot he made was a huge goal. We took off from there.”