The Chicago Blackhawks were coming off an ugly loss, and they had the surging Los Angeles Kings coming to town for a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals.
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Enter Jonathan Toews.
The Chicago captain set up two of the Blackhawks’ three first-period goals, leading the defending Stanley Cup champions to a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles on Sunday night.
”We got a great start and didn’t really let up for the next 40 minutes,” Toews said. ”It was a much better effort tonight. It doesn’t take us long to get back to our good habits.”
Rookie Antti Raanta made 21 saves to help Chicago bounce back from a 7-3 loss at Toronto on Saturday night. Marian Hossa had a short-handed score that snapped Los Angeles’ NHL-record streak of 18 games without allowing a first-period goal.
”I just tried to keep on doing the right things and tried to find the puck all the time,” said Raanta, who was pulled after two periods in the loss to the Maple Leafs.
Raanta was working on his first career shutout before Alec Martinez scored at 16:06 of the third. The Kings then had a power-play opportunity when Andrew Shaw was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct. But the Blackhawks managed to kill it off.
”We didn’t have the puck very much,” Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said. ”So a lot of the shots were standing at the blue line or sneaking in. We weren’t in their zone much, so we weren’t very effective.”
Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp also scored as Chicago improved to 7-0-2 in the second half of games on back-to-back nights. It was win No. 684 for Joel Quenneville, tying Pat Quinn for fourth on the league’s coaching list.
The Kings (22-8-4) had won six in a row and were hoping to complete a perfect four-game trip in the same building where their Stanley Cup title defense ended in June. But the matchup of the NHL’s best offensive team and the league’s stingiest defense went to the high-scoring Blackhawks, who have won four of five and lead the NHL with 53 points.
”It wasn’t the start that we wanted and it’s hard to play catch-up,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said. ”It’s quite a bit to overcome when it’s that kind of team. It’s no secret we lost the game in the first period.”
Ben Scrivens had 37 saves for Los Angeles in his first start since Dec. 2, keeping the Kings in the game with a handful of nice stops in the last two periods. Scrivens and Martin Jones have done a terrific job in goal since Jonathan Quick was shelved by a groin injury last month.
The Blackhawks (24-7-5) also were without their top goaltender, Corey Crawford. The 29-year-old Crawford is out with a lower-body injury, and it’s unclear when he might return.
Raanta has started every game since Crawford went down on Dec. 8. He made his best stop against Los Angeles in the second, sticking his right skate out to turn away Kopitar on a prime opportunity.
”It shows a lot that a young rookie goaltender like him can come back and play with confidence like he did tonight,” Toews said.
Chicago beat Los Angeles in five games in the playoffs, and went on to win the title for the second time in four seasons. The series against the Kings culminated with a hat trick for Patrick Kane in the deciding game, including the decisive score in the second overtime off a pass from Toews.
Toews picked up right where he left off in the first game of his season between two of the NHL’s best teams.
First, he won a battle for the puck with Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin behind the Kings’ net, and then threw it in front for Hossa’s 14th goal at 5:45 of the first. After Versteeg scored on a 2-on-1 break, Toews made a great cross-ice pass to Sharp for a power-play goal that made it 3-0 with 29 seconds left in the period.
”I think Jonathan Toews in the first period pretty much just said, `OK boys, my time there,”’ Sutter said.
NOTES: It was Bryan Bickell bobblehead night, but the big forward remained out with a lower-body injury. Quenneville said Bickell probably will accompany the team to Nashville for Tuesday’s game against the Predators, but it’s more likely he returns on Friday against Vancouver. ”He did well today,” Quenneville said, ”so he’s close.” . . . Kings D Willie Mitchell was scratched due to an illness. He played in each of Los Angeles’ first 33 games of the season. . . . Quenneville said goaltender Jason LaBarbera ”could be in the mix” with the Blackhawks soon. LaBarbera was acquired in a trade with Edmonton on Saturday and assigned to Rockford in the AHL.