For the last two days, the Blackhawks have sounded much like a politician trying to remember his talking points memo.
Since the team announced Jonathan Toews would be out until the playoffs, joining the injured Patrick Kane, the term “flip the switch” has come up in almost every interview every Hawks player has done.
That as in … once the playoffs start, the Hawks need to be able to regain the form that won them the Stanley Cup last season. But reaching that level of play isn’t as easy as, well, flipping a switch.
The switch nudged just a little closer to the “on” position Thursday night as the Hawks defeated the Wild 3-2 in a shootout to snap their three-game skid before a crowd of 21,791 at the United Center. The victory allowed them stay within three points of the second-place Avalanche in the Central Division.
It also helped the Hawks (43-19-15) exorcise some of their overtime demons as they won in a shootout for the sixth time this season.
“We played the way we had to play,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Playing it simple, advancing the puck with a check-first mentality. … We didn’t give up much all game.”
But the Hawks did relinquish a lead late in regulation when the Wild’s Erik Haula tied it 2-2 on a shot that appeared to deflect off the stick of Matt Cooke on its way to the net at 18 minutes, 6 seconds of the third period.
In the shootout, Quenneville said he wasn’t sure whom to pencil in with Toews and Kane unavailable, but it ended up working out fine. The Wild (39-26-12) could not score on Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford while Marian Hossa provided the lone goal of the shootout.
Bryan Bickell, who missed the last six games because of an upper-body injury, and Ben Smith each scored their 11th goals of the season.
“The last few games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to,” Smith said. “To get a win in front of our fans helps our confidence and we’re looking to grow that confidence even more.”
Bickell’s goal came at 2:45 in the third period to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead after he stuffed in his own rebound past the left leg of Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Smith’s came early in the second on a loose puck after a seemingly disastrous first period in which the Hawks managed just five shots and the Wild took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Charlie Coyle. Quenneville said he didn’t mind how the Blackhawks started, but Bickell said something needed to change from the first period.
“We were getting too cute,” Bickell said.
What exactly changed? The Hawks kept the game simple. In other words, stop trying to be a hero, just get the puck on net and go from there.
“We’re stressing making sure simplicity is at a priority level right now,” Quenneville said. “That’s something we might see a little bit more than we normally do. We encourage these guys to play well offensively, but trying to manufacture leads to trouble sometimes and safety is probably the right way to approach it.”
For the next two weeks, the Hawks are better safe than sorry.