Nikolai Khabibulin and the Blackhawks overcame a 1-for-5 power play performance during the first twenty minutes and a 2-1 deficit following the first period to beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in overtime on Friday evening at the United Center. Even a surely drunken Dan Akroyd in aviator sunglasses couldn’t slow the ‘Hawks, who have now won each their last three games.
The win is revenge for the ‘Hawks, who lost last week to the Devils by the same score in New Jersey, though the ‘Hawks didn’t get an overtime point in that match. This time around, though, the ‘Hawks started the scoring.
As the Devils were doing their best to rack up as many Delay of Game penalty minutes during the first frame, the ‘Hawks saw 10 minutes of power play time. Kris Versteeg gave the ‘Hawks their only regulation lead of the evening when, about six minutes into the first period, he was inexplicably allowed to walk from the corner to the front of the net unmolested on the power play. Versteeg backed into the low slot and roofed a nice wrist shot over Martin Brodeur to tally his 21st of the season.
The happiness faded quickly, however, as the Zach Parise responded for the Devils about a minute-and-a-half later on a wrist shot at the top of the circle. Parise’s wrister deflected off the stick of Aaron Johnson and hit the twine behind Khabibulin to tie it. Then, with just 17 seconds left to play in the period, defensman Paul Martin smacked in a rebound amidst a scrum in front of the ‘Hawk net to give the Devils the lead. Though Khabibulin was shaky early, allowing yummy rebounds on long shots, neither Devil tally was soft. Parise’s goal took an unnatural bounce off Johnson’s stick, and the second goal rests on the shoulders of the ‘Hawk defense.
The ‘Hawks ouplayed the Devils during the second, but it didn’t pay until Martin Havlat found himself with room at the top of the offensive zone. Havlat walked in unbothered and snuck a quick wrister past the blocker of Brodeur to tie the game. More on Havlat later.
Khabibulin shined in the third, and the ‘Hawks got all three shots in the overtime period, including the Brent Seabrook slap shot winner from the point with about 90 seconds left in the extra frame.
Unfortunately for the ‘Hawks, though, the Canucks also won, beating the Avalanche in Colorado 4-1. That leaves the ‘Hawks two points up with a game in-hand entering tomorrow’s clash in Chicago.
Martin Halvlat is the Blackhawks’ best player. Jonathan Toews is the undisputed captain; Duncan Keith is a prototypical new age defenseman; and, Patrick Kane is one of the league’s most dangerous power play players.
But, Martin Havlat is the team’s best player. Dale Tallon was absolutely right not to move Havlat at the deadline, and he’d be right to re-sign Havlat as soon as possible and deal with any consequences later, including moving other members of the current nucleus to make room under the salary cap. Havlat seems to have solved his injury issues, and he’s made a habit of being the best player on the ice since the games have taken a playoff flavor. He’s capable of dominating shifts and games like no other ‘Hawk can, and I’m not sure I want to think of the Blackhawks without him.
Nik Khabibulin is apparently the guy in the ‘Hawk net from here on out, and he played like it yesterday evening. He’ll be in the net tomorrow, and a confident Khabibulin could be the difference come playoff time.
But, he won’t be back next year – no matter what your buddy tells you.
Ben Eager returns from suspension tomorrow evening, which leaves Joel Quenneville with 13 forwards. He’ll play, and Dustin Byfuglien won’t sit. That leaves Adam Burish or Colin Fraser to center Eager and Byfuglien, your new fourth line wingers. Rather than picking one, perhaps Q will rotate Burish and Fraser to keep them both involved.