Islanders 4, Blackhawks 2

And, just like that, the Blackhawks’ lead for the fourth spot in the Western Conference is only two points.  This is after the ‘Hawks dropped a home matinee to the lowly New York Islanders and the surging Vancouver Canucks toppled the Colorado Avalanche.  In Chicago, what could – or should – have been a 5-1 drubbing of the Isle turned into a 4-2 loss on the strength of Peter Mannino’s play in the Islander net and Nikolai Khabibulin’s shaky performance in his first outing back from a groin injury. Sunday’s game – and the handful before it – serve as a reminder of how important goaltending is, and that any NHL team can steal two points with a great outing between the pipes.

In what’s becoming a trend for the ‘Hawks, they fell behind on the first goal of the game.  This time it came in the second period.  The New York goal was compliments of Mark Streit, who beat Khabibulin with a shot from the point, on the power play.  Khabibulin didn’t appear to be screened on the shot.

Kris Versteeg finally solved Mannino minutes after the Islander tally at the end of a dominant power play where Mannino came up big a couple times and Brian Campbell missed as empty net on a one-timer.  The Islanders, though, scored twice in the final minutes of the third to break the Blackhawks’ back and set up a difficult third period.  The first was Richard Park’s on an awkward one-timer in the slot, and the second came off a rebound by Frans Nielson.

The story of the first two periods, though, could be the handful of great chances the ‘Hawks weren’t able to cash in on.  Martin Havlat, Ben Eager and Patrick Kane were stonewalled on breakaway opportunities, and the ‘Hawks had a handful of other great chances.  Mannino, in his first NHL start, stood tall.

The third period was a frustrating one for the ‘Hawks and their faithful, as “boos” showered down during much of the period.  Mid-way through the period, Khabibulin let in another Mark Streit point shot, which sailed over the goalie’s mask for the fourth Islander tally.  Though the second half of the period was filled with pressure and chances – as well as a Patrick Kane power play goal – the ‘Hawks weren’t able to muster the offense necessary to tie a three-goal game, despite significant 5-on-3 time late.  The real trouble was the first half of the third, when the ‘Hawks settled on a dump-and-chase style to counter the Islanders’ neutral zone pressure.  On many shifts, however, the ‘Hawk forwards failed on the forecheck, creating dump-and-don’t-chase style, which is typically unsuccessful.

The loss puts the pressure for home ice on the ‘Hawks, as they set sail for road games in New Jersey and Colorado.  The ‘Hawks round out the week at home against the Oilers and Kings.

The mini road trip is just in time, too.  I’ll tell you why later this afternoon.

Until then, keep your chins up, ‘Hawk fans.

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