DENVER (AP) — Brent Seabrook has never played better defense than he is right now. And that’s powering his recent offensive surge.
Or so goes the reasoning of Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who praised his defenseman after another rock-solid performance on both ends of the ice.
Seabrook’s power-play goal broke a second-period tie, Patrick Kane scored twice and the Central Division-leading Blackhawks beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2 on Saturday night.
Over his last five games, Seabrook now has six points (two goals and four assists). His goal against Colorado was a pinpoint shot into the upper corner of the net.
Just where he was aiming, right?
“Shot it as hard as I could and hoped I didn’t hit anybody,” Seabrook said, smiling.
Moments after scoring, Seabrook turned in a nifty defensive play. With Matt Duchene racing down the ice on a breakaway, Seabrook caught up to him, lifted the speedy forward’s stick and poked the puck away.
“(Seabrook) was probably the one guy who turned it around,” said Quenneville, whose team flew in Saturday morning after a break for the holiday. “I think the offense is coming because he’s been defending so well.”
Brandon Saad also scored for the Blackhawks, while Patrick Sharp celebrated his 33rd birthday with a game-sealing power-play goal in the third period.
“He’s getting old, but he can still score some goals,” Seabrook cracked.
Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson had goals for the Avalanche as their three-game win streak was snapped.
This is the second time Chicago has beaten Colorado at Pepsi Center this year after going 0-2 in the building last season.
Corey Crawford stopped 11 of his 23 shots in the third period, none bigger than the one he made with the Avalanche on a 5-on-3 power play. He turned back a point-blank shot to help the Blackhawks successfully dodge both penalties.
The Avalanche pulled goaltender Calvin Pickard with just over 2 minutes remaining, but couldn’t generate much offense against Chicago’s stingy defense. Instead, it was Kane who scored when he easily tapped the puck into the net with 5.4 seconds remaining. The Blackhawks are now 12-2 this season when Kane scores.
“We didn’t play a bad hockey game,” Duchene said. “We played hard. They are a playoff hockey team. … I think there were a lot of good things in our game.”
Pickard stopped 28 shots in what might have been his final start before being sent back to Lake Erie of the American Hockey League. Pickard has been filling in for Semyon Varlamov as the Russian goaltender recovers from a nagging groin injury.
With Varlamov’s return — he blanked the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday — the Avalanche are reluctant to relegate Pickard to a backup role even if he possessed the second-best save percentage in the league entering the game. Colorado coach Patrick Roy would much rather see the 22-year-old Pickard stay in a groove by playing every night in the minors.
Roy said he may wait a few days before making a decision on Pickard, just to make sure Varlamov is completely healthy.
Seabrook scored his seventh goal of the season on a power play in the second period, giving the Blackhawks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Colorado got on the board early in the game when MacKinnon scored his first goal since Nov. 13. The lead didn’t last long as Saad answered 31 seconds later with a wrist shot through traffic.
Johnson gave the Avalanche another lead with a goal in his fourth-straight game. Once again, the Blackhawks responded, when Duncan Keith sent a pass through the legs of defenseman Brad Stuart that Kane tipped into the net.
Pickard has earned high praise from Roy and his teammates with his play. He set an Avalanche rookie record with 47 saves in a 1-0 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 18.
“You don’t see a goalie his age play the way he has,” Johnson said.
NOTES: Blackhawks C Brad Richards missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury. … D Michal Rozsival was a scratch after not playing in the third period Tuesday due to a lower-body injury. … C Jonathan Toews finished with two assists. … Roy insisted he hasn’t lost faith in goaltender Reto Berra, who hasn’t played since Dec. 5. “He needs to rebuild his confidence,” Roy said.
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