Blackhawks sweep season series vs Rangers
The last time the Blackhawks and Rangers met up, it was a couple weeks ago in New York, and the boys in red were riding a 9-game losing streak at the tail end of their epic February road trip. On Friday night, it was the Rangers coming into the United Center on a short losing streak, and the Blackhawks looking to bounce back after a rough 1-5 loss in St. Louis.
Johnny Oduya was acquired from Winnipeg at the trade deadline, and it wasn't expected that he was going to be some kind of miracle cure for what has ailed Chicago. The Blackhawks have gone 4-1-0 in the games since the trade deadline, however, and Oduya has soaked up an average just over 21 TOI per game since his arrival. His TOI hasn't made a huge impact in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook's TOI yet - the top line still skates the lion's share of blue line minutes, with the third pairing getting between 11-14 TOI. Hopefully in the final stretch of games, this will help ease the load on Chicago's top two defensemen and give them some pre-playoffs rest.
After a lot of blue line shuffling this season, it turns out that a slate of injuries for the team's D-men may have been a blessing in disguise, forcing Coach Quenneville to put Sami Lepistö and Rockford call-up Dylan Olsen in for Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson. While Lepistö wasn't used to his full capacity, he played well enough to leave fans wondering why he spent most of the season benched. Unfortunately, the Finnish defensemen was injured in the recent game vs the Blues when David Perron landed on his leg; his injury is listed as "indefinite". Montador suffered a setback and Hjalmarsson played his first game back against the Rangers.
The Rangers opened the scoring in the final minute of the first period, and it took Chicago most of the second to even the score with a nice Oduya-to-Andrew Shaw feed. The Rangers again took the lead 7:11 into the third with a goal from Brandon Prust. But the Blackhawks weren't done; Patrick Sharp tied things up at the 13:02 mark. Then Oduya scored his own goal just over a minute later. Patrick Kane put in an empty net goal at 19:07 and it seemed like the game would echo the same 4-2 score they'd earned in Madison Square Garden. But the Rangers weren't done yet, and Brad Richards put one in just 12 seconds later to pull the score to 4-3.
Oduya definitely had his best game since coming to the Blackhawks. His style of play, refined in the Eastern Conference over the past six seasons, turns out to be well-suited to the Western Conference, and the Chicago forwards have been complimentary about his style of play. He may, in fact, be the "puck-moving defenseman" that Chicago has sought, although the rest of the season and the playoffs will tell about that.