As Ilya Kovalchuk skated rings around the competition on Wednesday night in Atlanta, Nik Khabibulin one-upped him, winning one for his Blackhawks on the road 3-1. And, boy was it ugly at times – especially the two disallowed Thrasher goals.
On a night the ‘Hawks scratched forward Dustin Byfuglien and defenseman James Wisniewski in favor of Craig Adams and Aaron Johnson, respectively, the goaltender stole the show. Perhaps it was the opponent – a poor team in the opposite conference – but Joel Quenneville felt comfortable to sit two typical starters in favor of two players who have played very little in recent matches. James Wisniewski is becoming famous for his in-zone Steve Prefontaine impressions – running around – and Dustin Byfuglien has made it a practice to play about five solid shifts a night, neglecting the others. Q had apparently seen enough of both.
Patrick Sharp opened the scoring. Patrick Sharp opened the scoring. (That’s not a typo; I’m just making sure you absorb it.) Sharp got some room and a shot from the far circle – typically a bad combination for Blackhawk opponents – and with his best ‘Patrick Sharp in November’ impression, he roofed it past Kari Lehtonen on the power play to make it 1-0. It wouldn’t last long, however, as Kovalchuk, who played like a lion recently freed from Brookfield Zoo, blasted a slap shot from just inside the blue line past Khabibulin. Atlanta’s Vyacheslav Kozlov (try saying that five times fast – no, seriously) immediately answered by taking a tripping penalty, which led to a Jonathan Toews’ tap-in power play goal that came just 21 seconds after Kovalchuk’s tying tally. The flurry of activity during the last few minutes in the second – the two goals and a penalty – ended when Kovalchuk came blasting down the ice alone as the final seconds ticked off the clock. He cracked a slap shot from the blue line, and followed the long rebound with another shot, which entered the net and encited a Thrasher goal celebration. Alas, the replay showed the clock had expired about a half-second prior to the puck crossing the Blackhawk goal line.
Though the ‘Hawks were outshot 37-28, Khabibulin took care of the rest. The Thrashers doubled the ‘Hawks in shots during the third, 16-8, including a large handful of power play scoring chances. Khabby stopped them all. One particular big save saw Khabibulin sprawling to his left to cover an empty net, denying the Thrashers’ Brian Little his 22nd of the season. The ‘Hawks were also aided by a quick referee whistle when the puck entered the ‘Hawk net as two players followed it in. The nearby referee whistled the play dead as he lost the puck, negating any replay opportunity.
The final hurdle came in the form of a Patrick Sharp offensive zone hooking penalty with just over a minute left in regulation. The Thrashers responded by calling a timeout and pulling their goalie for the ensuing face-off in the ‘Hawk zone. Though they – again – had little trouble drumming up opportunities, Khabibulin stood tall, and Adam Burish brilliantly blocked two point shots, even after the first left him visibly hurt. Late in the kill, Dave Bolland put one into the yawning twine to seal it.
Worst Fan Jersey
Cameras scanning the crowd during yesterday evening’s game found numerous fans wearing this jersey – sans numbers and all. With no numbers, the jersey looks like the old basketball jerseys usually available at TJ Maxx. It has to be, without question, the worst replica jersey a fan could wear to a game.