A dominant two-week road trip for the Chicago Blackhawks gave warning to the rest of the NHL: It’s going to be difficult to dethrone the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Blackhawks’ seven-game, 13-day trip ended with a sixth straight victory Saturday night, as Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist in a dominant first period and Antti Raanta made 32 saves in a 5-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
”We loved the trip,” said coach Joel Quenneville, whose team improved to an NHL-best 20-4-4.
”We loved the consistency. We loved the contribution we’re getting across the board.”
After Chicago’s 3-0 lead become 3-2 after a sloppy second period, Brandon Bollig’s goal with 9:11 left put it away for the Blackhawks. Andrew Shaw and Niklas Hjalmarsson also scored for the Blackhawks, and Marian Hossa added an empty-net goal.
Rob Klinkhammer and Martin Hanzal scored for the Coyotes, whose fourth loss in five games left coach Dave Tippett fuming.
”That’s the top team in the league, and we come out and start like that?” Tippett said. ”That’s just unacceptable.”
On their annual, lengthy trip while the United Center hosts the circus, Chicago played in Colorado, toured western Canada and stopped in Dallas on Friday night, where the Blackhawks prevailed in the 11th round of a shootout.
After stopping 10 of 11 shots in the shootout less than 24 hours earlier, Corey Crawford got the night off.
Raanta, who secured his first NHL victory Wednesday in Calgary, showed poise in his second start after the Coyotes got within a goal late in the second period.
”It was much easier to play today than in Calgary,” Raanta said. ”It was a pretty good game, and I felt really good,”
The Blackhawks showed no fatigue early, while getting some help from the bumbling Coyotes, who have made a habit of falling behind early.
Phoenix was called for too many men on the ice after the first shift 49 seconds into the game, and 25 seconds later Derek Morris was sent to the box for holding.
Chicago took advantage of the 5 on 3 against the league’s 27th-ranked penalty killing unit as Kane deflected Hossa’s shot from the point, beating goaltender Mike Smith high for Kane’s 16th goal of the season.
The Blackhawks went up 2-0 when Shaw picked up the puck in a scramble in front of the net and sent a soft, bouncing backhand that squirted past Smith by the left post at 9:18.
Less than two minutes later, Hjalmarsson’s took Kane’s pass off the boards and beat Smith from the corner and Chicago had three goals on 12 shots.
”Great start. It could have been our best period to start a period all year,” Quenneville said.
It marked the second time this week Phoenix, which has been outscored 28-16 in the first period this season, had fallen behind 3-0 in the opening 20 minutes.
”I don’t know what it is. We obviously aren’t ready for the first period,” Hanzal said. ”We have to start making sure we are ready because this is unacceptable.”
Phoenix got within 3-1 early in the second period when Michael Stone intentionally shot wide. The puck bounced off the boards directly to Klinkhammer, who poked it in the net by the near post for his fifth goal, while Stone got an assist.
Chicago’s parade to the penalty box allowed the Coyotes to make it a game.
With Hjalmarsson serving four minutes for slashing and then complaining about it, Hanzal redirected Radim Vrbata’s pass in front of the net to make it 3-2 with 4:04 left in the second. But Chicago later killed off a 5-on-3 power play.
Smith stopped 31 shots in what Tippett called a ”very average” performance in a sour ending to a record-breaking night off the ice for the Coyotes.
Despite competition in the area from the Arizona-Arizona State football game and the Jazz-Suns game, the Coyotes announced they broke a franchise record for single-game revenue, in part because all luxury suites were sold and the team has cut down on ticket giveaways.
The sellout crowd of 17,321 was a high point for the once-troubled franchise, which was under NHL control until a group led by George Gosbee took over this summer and committed to keep the team in Arizona.
But the Coyotes fell to 0-2 against the Blackhawks.
”The consistency is what we’re appreciating,” Quenneville said. ”The energy and enthusiasm in the locker room and on the bench is as good as we’ve seen it here.”
NOTES: Coyotes D Rusty Klesla, who was waived Tuesday, sent to the minors Wednesday and then recalled Friday so he could attend to a personal matter, was a healthy scratch. . . . The Blackhawks host Dallas on Tuesday in their first home game since Nov. 17. . . . The Coyotes begin a four-game road trip Tuesday at Edmonton.