Jay Kopinski/Icon SMI)
Having Ray Emery become the Chicago Blackhawks starting goaltender at this point of the season might not have been in the team’s original plans, but that is exactly how it is shaping up in the Windy City.
Since he replaced the struggling Corey Crawford after the first period in the game against Toronto this past Wednesday, Emery has helped the Blackhawks’ roller-coaster season get back on track in a winning direction.
Trailing 3-2 heading into the second period of that game, Emery held the fort as his teammates clawed back with four unanswered goals en route to a 5-4 win. The win snapped a three-game losing streak, which came on the heels of a four-game winning streak, which came on the heels of a nine-game losing streak – quite the up-and-down month of hockey, indeed.
With the Blackhawks clinging to sixth place in the Western Conference, the win over Toronto was an important one as the team continued a challenging three-game road trip which made its second stop in Canada’s Capital.
For Friday night’s meeting with the surging Senators, head coach Joel Quenneville decided to stick with the 29-year-old Emery, who would be facing the team in which he enjoyed the finest years of his career as a member of the Senators’ organization from 2002-2008.
Emery quieted the same fans that used to cheer for him with a 25-save performance in what was a picture-perfect way to start the club’s road trip.
"It feels great," Emery told the Associated Press after the game. "We’re in a battle and we know they are too. We needed that one, especially our last few games on the road we’ve had a tough time and to come out and outplay them like we did in the first two and then really hunker down defensively in the third.”
Having won two straight starts for the first time since January, Emery was once again pegged as the team’s starter for Sunday afternoon’s showdown with the Detroit Red Wings, and once again he delivered. Facing the league’s top home team, Emery stopped 23 of the 24 shots he faced to help lead the Blackhawks to their third straight win and second straight victory over Detroit.
Picking up his 12th, 13th and 14th wins of the season, Emery has gone from the role of a struggling backup to that of a red-hot starter in a matter of five days and three games.
Despite continuing to play without captain Jonathan Toews, Chicago can at least start to feel a little better about their goaltending situation going forward.
For the time being that is, because as we’ve seen throughout the year, the Chicago Blackhawks roller-coaster season can go down just as fast as it can go up.
Central Division Notes
Columbus Blue Jackets – For the first time this season, the Blue Jackets have won two straight games on the road. Rick Nash scored twice and added an assist in Saturday’s surprising 5-2 win in Phoenix which followed up a 2-0 shutout win over the playoff-hungry Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. The team has a busy week ahead with four games starting on Tuesday night when they host the Coyotes.
Detroit Red Wings – Splitting their two weekend games on home ice, the Red Wings continue to fight the inconsistency they’ve experienced since they lost Pavel Datsyuk to injury. The team is now dealing with the absence of captain Nicklas Lidstom whom they hope to have back in the lineup for upcoming games against Philadelphia on Tuesday and Los Angeles on Friday.
Nashville Predators – Pekka Rinne’s Vezina and Hart Trophy campaigns got another boost Saturday night when the All-Star goalie stopped 39 shots in Nashville’s 3-1 win in Florida. With his team hoping to keep pace with St. Louis and Detroit in the Central, the NHL’s leader in wins could be in for a busy week as the Predators will be at home for games against Los Angeles, Colorado and Detroit.
St. Louis Blues – Tied with Detroit for the Central Divison lead, the Blues incredible season keeps rolling with the team still very much in contention for the top seed in the West as a well as the President’s Trophy. The club responded fromThursday’s disappointing loss in Vancouver by coming up with a solid road win over San Jose on Saturday. The Blues will play their next three games on home ice starting Tuesday against Chicago, followed by a visit from Anaheim on Thursday.