What started to shape up as the first beating issued by the Blackhawks in some time, turned into a one-goal Atlanta Thrashers’ lead heading into the third at the United Center on Saturday evening. First period goals by Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Kim Johnsson helped the Hawks jump out to an early 3-1 lead to begin the second frame.
Sharp’s goal, which fittingly came on “Sharpie Night” where attendees received a Sharpie marker with its namesake on it, came just seconds into the first Hawks’ power play of the night. It marked Sharp’s return to the point of the power play and Dustin Byfuglien’s move back down low.
Marian Hossa’s goal came on an – wait for it, wait for it – odd-man rush. Hossa must have been named “Most Likely to Get Five Odd-Man Rushes in an NHL Game” in high school, because the hits just keep coming for him. Lately, though, he’s had a difficult time cashing in. This time, he made no mistake and blew it by O.P.P.’s glove. (I don’t care to learn how to spell the ex-Wolves and current Thrashers goalie’s name, so I’ll just call him O.P.P.; yeah, you know me.)
Then, Johnsson got in the early act, partnering with Patrick Kane on another pretty Hawk goal. Johnsson passed the puck down to Kane at the half-boards, and, noticing his man overplayed the pass to Kane, bolted to the net. Kane hit him with a quick pass, and Johnsson put it off the inside of the far post and in.
The second period was far less kind to the Hawks, who seemed to count their chickens before they hatched during the first intermission. A tally from Evander Kane and softies from Maxim Afinogenov and Tobias Enstrom gave the Thrashers a lead heading into the third.
In the third, the Hawks took over, outshooting the Thrash 14-4 and tying the game on a pretty Dave Bolland goal, his first since returning from back surgery. On the goal, Bolland found himself in on O.P.P. thanks to a nice cross-ice pass from Sharp and a beautiful rush by Brian Campbell. Bolland waited for O.P.P. to hit the deck and, in patented Bolland fashion, went around him and stuffed it home on the short side.
O.P.P. made a couple tough saves down the stretch and into overtime, and the Hawks were forced to take the game to a shootout, a common occurrence of late. In it – wait for it, wait for it – Jonathan Toews beat O.P.P. cleanly with a wrist shot to start the tallies. Although Patrick Kane missed – albeit with a wrister of his own, rather than the backhand move – Antti Niemi held up his end of the bargain by stopping all three Atlanta shooters.
The two points pull the Hawks within four points – with two games in-hand – of the Western Conference-leading Sharks and up a comfortable 16 points of the second place Nashville Predators.
Yo, Listen Up!
– By now, you’ve seen the replay of and heard reaction to the Colby Armstrong hit on Marian Hossa during the third. Armstrong drove his shoulder into Hossa’s chin as Hossa drove to the middle of the ice during the third. Hossa immediately left the game after laying on the ice for a few minutes. Now, I’ll save the debate on whether the Hawks need an enforcer; it’s long since been overplayed. But, I’ll state my distaste for those who dislike teammates reacting to clean hits, like Armstrong’s last night. Hey, an injury’s an injury, and the teammates want to deter the other team from taking shots at them.
While a clean hit is just that – clean – I absolutely don’t mind when teammates come to the aid of the hit player. In the end, the teammates don’t want the checked player to be hurt, whether it be by a dirty stick or a clean check.
– That’s one less Blackhawk to worry about in the Olympics.
– Brent Seabrook was sporting a visor last night. I wonder if he’s planning on wearing it for the Olympics and wants to get used to it. Any other reason out there?
– Niemi was so-so last night. The third and fourth Thrasher goals were rather soft, with the third goal sneaking through Niemi’s wickets from a poor angle and the fourth beating him from long range on the strength of a Bolland screen from way up top.
A lot was made about Niemi’s third start in a row, but with a back-to-back this weekend, it only made sense to ride the relatively hot hand for three in a row and then hand the reigns to Huet.
– Though I’m actually not a huge fan of the Toews/Sharp/Kane line – I still much prefer Tuomo Ruutu on the wing opposite Kane – the three had a fantastic first period and combined for five points and a +5 rating. Toews was the only player on the line without a point, but he won the shootout, per usual.
– Johnsson played a nice game and gets my stamp of approval. (I’m sure they’re dancing in the streets of Sweden because of it.) He’s actually a bit smoother than I thought he’d be. Other than his mismanagement of the second Thrasher goal, where he bit on a pass and let his man get the goal, he was solid. Plus, we’ll get to hear a lot of Johnsson/Ham Sandwich stories because they’re countrymen. Queue them up!
– Dustin Byfuglien was out there last night. Had he been for the last month? Anyone?
– Jack Skille has apparently been hurt of late. That made the Brian Bickell call that much easier. Bickell was quiet on the fourth line.