Just over six minutes into Sunday afternoon’s contest on the west side, the Blackhawks had a two-goal lead, thanks to a tip-in score from Jonathan Toews (his 26th) and a slap shot tally compliments of Duncan Keith and Kings’ goalie Jonathon Quick, who actually knocked the resting reboundinto his own net. The Kings weren’t able to recover, even after bringing the ‘Hawk lead to one in the final minute of play in the first – 3-2 at that point. The win ends the ‘Hawks skid at three losses, though one came in overtime and, thus, with a point in the standings, as well. It was also their first win against the Kings this season, who had beaten the ‘Hawks 5-2 in L.A. on two separate occasions.
Nearly half-way through the first, Jack Johnson beat Antti Niemi, the ‘Hawks goaltender making his first NHL start. The shot came from the point on the power play, compliments of the patented Patrick Kane hooking penalty, and cut the early ‘Hawk lead in half. Minutes later, Dustin Byfuglien gave the ‘Hawks their third of the night on a slap shot from the top of the circles. The shot came off a Kings turnover, and the failed transition gave Big Buff a couple seconds to set off his bomb of a slap shot. It beat a disappointed Quick, likely only because he was too scared to keep his eyes open. (The shot is just plain scary.) To round out the first period scoring, King Anze Kopitar beat Niemi for the second and final time of the evening en route to his twentieth of the season. And, Dave Bolland rounded out the scoring late in the third with his 15th, sending everyone in attendance home with a Big Mac from McDonald’s. (Note: Don’t read this sentence literally. The attendees actually have to present their neighborhood McDonald’s with a coupon to redeem the hamburger. Or, is it technically a cheeseburger?)
Niemi was generally solid in his first NHL start, giving up only two goals on 24 shots. But, boy, did he look shaky at times. Even in warm-ups, Niemi stabs at shots in an effort to stop them – especially with his blocker. I’m sure goaltending coaches have told him to accept, rather than fight, the puck (but the Feather’s goaltending coach is out sick this weekend). Other than that, his stance is very compact, leaving open the five-hole, but neither goal found its way to the twine via the fifth breach. All in all, I’d say a win to end a losing streak is a pretty good start for the rookie ‘tender.
The big story, though, is the ‘Hawks’ ability to avoid their fourth straight loss, something that cost the team a playoff birth last season. As most ‘Hawk pundits said at mid-season, these ‘Hawks have to avoid losing streaks during the stretch run if they want to make the playoffs. This win did just that.
Next up are the Anaheim (Formerly, Mighty) Ducks at the UC on Tuesday. It should be an interesting night, as Chris Pronger is rumored to be sitting on a plane somewhere in southern California waiting for directions from Ducks’ GM Bob Murray. Perhaps those at the UC will even see Phil Kessel’s first game as a Duck. Otherwise, if the ‘Hawks make a – very likely, minor – deal by the end of business tomorrow, it’s possible Tuesday’s match will feather a new ‘Hawk.
Until then, ‘Hawk fans.