After playing their worst game of the season, the Blackhawks responded with a nearly flawless performance against the slumping Calgary Flames. Their breakouts were crisp, their turnovers were few and far between, and they were buzzing around Mikka Kiprusoff for most of the night.
If it weren’t for Kiprusoff playing such a terrific game, it could’ve gotten very ugly, very quick. At the outset, the Hawks appeared ready to weather a Calgary storm. It never came and the Hawks started dictating the tempo. Kiprusoff had an answer for everything the Hawks threw his way. His best save sequence came when he stopped a Troy Brouwer slap shot with the paddle of his stick and then moments later denied Patrick Kane on a penalty shot.
The Hawks finally solved Kiprusoff halfway through the second. After the fourth line drew their second consecutive power play, Jonathan Toews pryed the puck loose along the boards and spotted Kane wide-open in the slot. In one motion, Toews swung a backhand pass to Kane who one-timed it through Kiprusoff’s legs to give the Hawks the opening goal.
Though it was only a one goal deficit, the Flames had the interest level of a team down six goals. When Marian Hossa went off for holding at the end of the period, Calgary responded with their most sustained pressure of the game. It paid off when Jamie Lundmark banged home a rebound to tie the game. From there, the Flames started buzzing around the Hawks. Unfortunately for them, the period was reaching its conclusion.
When both teams came out of the locker room for the third, it was much of the same. The Hawks controlled the play and the Flames didn’t look all that interested in competing.
Six minutes in, the fourth line came through again. Moments after Marc Giordano took a run at Tomas Kopecky, Ben Eager finished off a Kopecky-led rush. Kopecky carried the puck through the neutral zone, cut across the slot, and let a wrist shot go from the top of the circles. Eager was crashing the net and the puck rattled off his leg, his foot, and past Kiprusoff.
Save for a few Brent Seabrook turnovers and Craig Conroy ringing a shot off Antti Niemi’s head and then post, it was smooth sailing from there on in.
The win was capped off with Duncan Keith scoring the Hawks first empty net goal of the season. With Patrick Sharp covering down low, Keith recognized he could jump up in the play. Marian Hossa found him streaking down center ice and hit him with a perfect pass to seal the win for the Hawks.
–Really, I can’t state this enough. The Hawks played a near-perfect defensive game and after the deuce they dropped in Ottawa, it was fantastic to see. Even Cam Barker was entertaining to watch in his 10 minutes of ice time.
—Brent Sopel didn’t play in the third period and was not on the bench. Gulp. As I stated on Sunday, the Hawks are probably on borrowed time with Sopel. He’s going to break down, it’s only a matter of when. And that’s not a good thing. The Hawks are wretchedly thin on the defensive front after their top-4. There’s Cam Barker, Jordan Hendry and…..nothing, unless Brian Connelly or Richard Petiot gets your juices flowing.
There’s been a bit of scuttle about Scott Niedermayer lately, but Anaheim is waking up from their early season slumber and only 5 points out of a playoff spot. He’s not going anywhere while they’re that close. More likely, the Hawks will probably be in the market for a couple depth defensemen who won’t cost a whole bunch.
–The Hawks fourth line was simply magical tonight. They drew two penalties, kept the puck in Calgary’s zone, and scored the game-winning goal. In the post-game interview, Ben Eager stated how they’ve started clicking ever since they figured out how to play with Kopecky. I thought that was a bit off the cuff and rather interesting. It ain’t no joke either. For the past month or so, the fourth line has been outstanding.
If it keeps up, I’m not sure where Adam Burish will fit in when he comes back. He’s not nearly as skilled as Eager or Kopecky (who knew??) and I doubt he’s as good at face-offs as Fraser. Of course, his mythical energy level will probably propel him above Kopecky or Fraser.
—Brent Seabrook really wants to be Team Canada’s 7th defenseman. It won’t take long for Stevie Y and Mike Babcock to dress Drew Doughty if Seabrook keeps treating the puck like a birthday present from Osama Bin Laden.