CHICAGO | Talk about the ultimate mixed-emotions victory for the Blackhawks.
They blanked the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues 4-0 with Corey Crawford netting 23 saves and drove top goalie Ryan Miller from the game in the third period.
That effort netted coach Joel Quenneville his 700th victory on a night center Michael Handzus played in his 1,000th game.
Yet after all these positives, much of the post-game talk was about Patrick Kane.
The Hawks’ star winger and his team-leading 29 goals have been lost for three weeks, by Quenneville’s estimate, with an apparent leg injury suffered in the second period. Reports in the United Center had Kane suffering an MCL sprain.
Subdued after his milestone victory, Quenneville could not assure that Kane would return before the end of the regular season.
“Certainly he’s a special player,” he said. “We’ll have to work our way through it, what he brings to our team. It’s definitely huge loss for us. We were fortunate as far not being hit too hard (by injuries). You’re going to get tested at some point.”
Hawks players were still trying to digest the Kane news after the game.
“I have no idea what happened,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “At the same time, I think looking at it in a positive way, you got other guys who will get an opportunity to play a little bit play than they would normally. That’s only going to benefit them.
“It’s tough to lose a guy, and obviously with it being Kaner, a player of that stature on our team, it hurts.”
The Hawks were already a key performer short Wednesday with the absence of winger Brandon Saad, a 19-goal scorer. Quenneville said he was keeping his fingers crossed that Saad, suffering a lower-body injury, will return for Friday’s game with Carolina here.
Goals by Keith, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Smith made life difficult for Miller, whose team suffered its first division loss this season. The Hawks had lost three one-goal games to the Blues prior to Miller’s Feb. 28 acquisition from the Buffalo Sabres.
“It was nice to have a big win and good team effort against a really good team,” said Keith.
The victory made up some badly-needed ground on the Blues. The Hawks, who moved up to second place over the Colorado Avalanche, now trail the Blues by six points with 12 games to go. However, the task of catching the leaders is now made all that more difficult without Kane.
With Quenneville not in a joyous mood after No. 700, it was up to Crawford to take the measure of the third winningest coach in NHL history.
“He’s great,” he said. “He’s played a lot of games in the NHL. He knows what it’s like being a player. He’s really smart with us. He’s very good with our days off and our rest. There’s a lot of flow and a lot of feel with our practices. All our practices are a lot of speed and skill and it carries into our games. It just seems he gets the best out of players.”
The Hawks next play the Blues in a nationally-televised game on April 6. If they cannot catch the leaders, but hold second place, they’ll have home-ice advantage in the first round with the Avalanche.