WINNIPEG, Manitoba — For those not immersed in the daily minutiae of the Blackhawks season, those who haven’t spent much time thinking about what side Connor Murphy is playing and how the power play has sputtered and whether Vinnie Hinostroza could make everything all better, the three-time Stanley Cup champions still carry plenty of cachet, no matter what the standings say.
So even though Winnipeg was the team comfortably in the playoff picture and the Hawks were the team trying to claw their way back in — a dramatic role reversal from recent seasons — the Jets still looked at their division rival as a measuring stick.
“For sure,” defenseman Tyler Myers said before Thursday’s game. “Even with some of their tough goings this year, I think what they’ve done the last four, five, six years [means] they have a certain pedigree to them.”
For the first time in a long time, that pedigree was evident, as the Hawks scored three times on their first five shots and grounded the Jets in a dominant 5-1 victory. Winnipeg had been 10-0-1 in its last 11 home games. Strange as it may seem for the perennial power Hawks to use the perennial also-ran Jets for a so-called statement game, the Hawks certainly sent a message that they might not be washed up just yet.
Suddenly, the Hawks have won four straight, and are just four points behind the Jets. And while their three wins at home over bottom-feeders Buffalo, Arizona and Florida were tougher than they probably should have been, the win over the Jets was thoroughly impressive, and featured the speed, skill and swagger that gave the Hawks all that cachet in the first place.
Barely 10 minutes into the game, the Hawks were up 3-0, while surrendering one measly shot on goal to the Jets. Vinnie Hinostroza, who before the game predicted his line would get on a roll soon, scored at 1:50 on the Hawks’ first shot of the game after Ryan Hartman beat Myers to a puck and sprung a 2-on-1, with Patrick Sharp feeding Hinostroza for the one-timer.
Four minutes later, Tommy Wingels scored from the left circle. Four minutes after that, Nick Schmaltz deflected a Duncan Keith blast for a 3-0 lead.
And in a welcome change of pace, the Hawks didn’t let up much in the second period. Patrick Kane made it 4-0 off a terrific, spinning, no-look pass from Schmaltz. Nikolaj Ehlers broke up Corey Crawford’s shutout bid with a power-play goal at 5:25 of the third, and the Jets followed it with a ferocious third-period push, but Michal Kempny — in his first game in more than a month — hammered home his first goal of the season less than three minutes later to make it 5-1.
There’s a long way to go, of course, but the Hawks are at least trending in the right direction, as Joel Quenneville likes to say. Before the game, a Winnipeg reporter asked Jonathan Toews if he got the sense…