Blackhawks stomp Avalanche, 7-2

Jerry Bonkowski, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- How bad were the Colorado Avalanche in Friday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center?
Let's put it this way: it was the kind of game that you almost expected long-retired coach Patrick Roy and executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic to suit back up.
The Avalanche suffered their second-worst loss of the season while Chicago winger Patrick Sharp celebrated his 32nd birthday by scoring three goals and an assist, and center and team captain Jonathan Toews added two goals and a pair of assists en route to a 7-2 Blackhawks rout.
"It's special anytime you can do it," Sharp said of his hat trick, "but on a birthday where some of the guys were giving me some heat for being an old-timer, that makes it even better."
His performance was made even sweeter with his parents watching on in-person in the United Center stands, Sharp added.
But the joyful elixir of Friday's win won't last. The Blackhawks head to St. Louis for Saturday night's game against the arch-rival Blues, albeit with a huge amount of momentum.
"It's going to be a tough game going to St. Louis on a back-to-back," Sharp said. "It's a fun place to play with two great teams. It's going to be an awesome atmosphere. We're excited about it."
Added Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, "We know what our goals and objectives are. We prepare for the next opponent, St. Louis. We have a lot of respect for them and we know the meaning of that game. I wouldn't discount anybody in our division."
Sharp became the first player in Blackhawks history to score a hat trick on his birthday (the third three-goal single-game effort of his career), and the second Blackhawks player to score a hat trick this season, the other being Toews (Oct. 25 vs. Ottawa).
With its seventh win in the last nine games, Chicago improved to 27-7-6 (second best in the NHL) and a league-leading 60 points. The Blackhawks' seven goals equaled a season high.
Sharp has been red-hot recently, scoring 13 goals in his last 14 games, and increased his points total to 40, second-best on the team. Sharp is on pace to break his single-season record of 36 goals, set in 2007-08.
Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta stopped 16 of Colorado's 18 shots.
It was the second-worst defeat of the season for the Avalanche (23-11-3), whose worst outing came in an 8-2 loss at Edmonton on Dec. 5.
Colorado has now lost five of its last seven games (including three in overtime). The Avalanche are 11-6-2 in road games.
"I thought the first 10 we were kind of playing with them a bit and then all of a sudden when they score that first goal and then the second, it was getting tougher for us," Roy said. "At some point I was thinking of replacing (Avalanche starting goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere) after the first, but I thought it would be unfair on my part to do that because he played so well for us this year. I wanted to give him a chance."
Sharp scored his first two goals -- his 19th and 20th -- in the first period at 12:27 and 19:18 (on the power-play), sandwiched around the first of Toews' two goals in the game at 18:03 -- his first goal since Dec. 11 vs. Philadelphia. From there, the rout was on against the Avalanche and Giguere, who stopped just 17 of Chicago's 24 shots in the first two periods before being replaced at the start of the third by Semyon Varlamov, who stopped all 13 of Chicago's shots against him.
Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith tallied three assists in the game, giving him 33 for the season.
Sharp made it a hat trick and a 4-0 lead just 27 seconds into the second period, and Toews added his second goal at 8:21 of the period, with Sharp earning the assist for good measure.
"That's a job (facing Sharp and Toews) for the top defense and top lines to match up against their top lines," Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson said. "I think they played really well. They always seem to play good at home. We just came out with a bad, lackluster effort in the first (period) and it just carried on."
Colorado finally scored on center Paul Stastny's goal (No. 11) at 9:07 of the middle period.
Chicago center Michal Handzus (No. 4) and right winger Kris Versteeg (No. 8) added two more goals in the second period to make it 7-1.
Colorado forward Gabriel Landeskog scored his 11th goal at 7:37 of the third period to round out the Avalanche's scoring.
Chicago, which lost 5-1 in Denver to the Avalanche on Nov. 19, now leads the all-time series between the two teams 50-47-9-6.
NOTES: Attendance was a season-high 22,201, surpassing the regular-season opening mark of 22,158 vs. the Washington Capitals. Chicago is now just two games away from 250 consecutive sellouts. ... Rumors continue to circulate that Blackhawks G Corey Crawford is getting closer to returning from the lower-body injury that sidelined him since Dec. 10. Latest talk is he may be ready as early as Saturday at St. Louis or Monday's home game vs. the Los Angeles Kings. ... Colorado has been very fortunate this season when it comes to injuries. The Avalanche lost only 57 man-games to injury, compared to 80 for the Blackhawks. The only Avalanche regular who remains sidelined is LW Alex Tanguay (knee). He is out indefinitely. ... Avalanche C Matt Duchene appeared in his 300th career NHL game.

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