Rookies keyed the latest victory in the Chicago Blackhawks’ three-game winning streak, accounting for the game-ending goal in overtime Tuesday and the goaltending performance that kept Chicago afloat.
As the Blackhawks return home Thursday to begin a two-game series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they remain pleasantly surprised that the organization’s youth has served the roster so capably, so soon.
“It tells a lot about our team,” said rookie goaltender Kevin Lankinen, who earned his fifth victory with Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime win at Dallas. “A lot of young guys have stepped up. They’ve been given the opportunity and they are making the most of it. … I think you can see it already in the results now. We’re building a lot of confidence, and I think every guy is building confidence in their own game, too, and it’s only going to get better from here.”
Pius Suter scored the game-winner in OT Tuesday — the Blackhawks won by the same score Sunday in a game that also needed overtime — with assists from fellow rookies Brandon Hagel and Lankinen.
Lightly regarded by various prognosticators entering 2021 due to heavy roster turnover, the Blackhawks have reached the quarter pole of the truncated, 56-game regular season with 16 points and tied for second place in the Central Division.
“We said in training camp that we needed to block out the outside,” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said. “It doesn’t really matter what’s said about us. What matters is our work ethic, whether we’re going to have the proper mentality to compete, and I think we’ve shown that.
“One of the main goals of the season was to get better as the year went on, to improve, to continue to improve and that mentality that we’re not going to waste any days. We’re practicing hard, the guys are committed, and we have improved, but we need to keep that mindset that there’s no satisfaction, no complacency.”
Columbus has won two of three after defeating Carolina 3-2 on Monday to close a four-game homestand, but uneven play has left coach John Tortorella frustrated and searching for answers.
Tortorella benched forward Patrik Laine for the final 26 minutes of Monday’s game after Laine, recently acquired in a trade from the Winnipeg Jets, had a heated, off-ice exchange with an assistant coach, according to a report in The Columbus Dispatch.
Tortorella declined to discuss specifics Monday but said of the move: “It’s what I feel I need to do. The last thing I want to do is bench a player. But … we’re just disjointed in all areas, quite honestly, both on and off the ice.”
Veteran Cam Atkinson acknowledges that the organization has undergone numerous roster changes in past seasons, but also said it’s time for the Bluejackets to start jelling before it’s too late.
“Whether you’re a new guy, an old guy, we have to hold each other accountable,” Atkinson said. “It doesn’t matter who you are and where you play. We have to all buy in.”
The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets split a pair of games in Columbus at the end of last month, with Columbus prevailing 2-1 on Jan. 29 before falling 3-1 two nights later.
–Field Level Media