By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks entered Saturday’s tilt with Boston all too aware of what the Bruins’ struggling offense has experienced in the early stages of their Stanley Cup defense. Despite Boston’s slow start to the season, the marquee match-up between the league’s last two champions did not disappoint. Both teams carried play for stretches as they battled through 65 minutes, but it was Boston that eventually came away with two points in the shootout.
The squads traded chances in the early-going. Milan Lucic had several scoring opportunities on his own in the first period, the first one redirected high by the stick of Jonathan Toews and later a couple heavy shots on the rush that Corey Crawford was able to control. Patrick Kane’s line continued to create offense despite a new face in Viktor Stalberg on the right wing for an injured Marian Hossa. Their best chance came after Stalberg shielded the puck and passed to Kane, who drove unimpeded to the net but was robbed by the glove of Tim Thomas. Kane threw another backhand attempt at Thomas later in the period after using the spin-o-rama to get himself some space.
Bryan Bickell put the Blackhawks on the scoreboard first at the 16:21 mark of the first period. He scored his first goal of the season after picking off a cross-rink pass in the neutral zone from Boston’s Andrew Ference. Bickell flew by the rest of the Bruins who were still heading up the ice and slid a quick shot between the legs of Thomas as he was dropping into the butterfly.
Chicago carried the 1-0 lead into the second and appeared to have an early opportunity to increase that lead when Nathan Horton was whistled for goaltender interference just 0:24 seconds into the period. On one of the power play chances, Brent Seabrook sailed a tight-angle shot over the net and the puck took an unpredictable carom as it went around the boards. The tough bounce sent Rich Pevereley and Chris Kelly on a 2-on-1 against Duncan Keith. Peverley’s pass hit Kelly’s tape perfectly and he made no mistake with the shorthanded opportunity to tie the game up at 1-1.
The Blackhawks best chances came after the power play ended with Patrick Sharp just missing a back door tap-in on a pass from Kane. Moments later, Kane had room at the left dot and snapped another Hawk goal through the five-hole of Thomas. Kane’s second tally of the season put the Hawks back up by one just 0:78 seconds after the Bruins had tied the game.
The Blackhawks threatened later in the second but could not extend their lead. All four lines pitched in and posed a threat at times, but Tim Thomas continued to loom large despite the pair that beat him between his legs. Boston gained some momentum late in the frame, but came away empty-handed on their second power play and couldn’t pull even despite plenty of late-period offensive zone time.
Michael Frolik drew a penalty just 0:09 seconds into the third period when he was checked in the numbers by Patrice Bergeron along the Blackhawks’ bench. Though the first unit threatened early on, Chicago again failed to extend their lead early in the period on the power play.
The Bruins’ top line finally got one past Crawford 7:56 into the third period. Johnny Boychuk sent the puck in deep after Jonathan Toews gave the puck away to Seguin in the neutral zone. Boychuk beat all the Hawks to his own puck in behind the net and sent a centering pass back out to Nathan Horton, who blasted a one-timer by Crawford to tie the game.
Boston continued to carry momentum throughout much of the third period. Benoit Pouliot was whistled for a high-stick 16:25 into the period, but the Blackhawks could barely keep the puck in their offensive zone. Nearly the last minute of the power play was nullified by a penalty to Sharp, called for holding the stick while battling for the puck against Boychuk in the corner.
The four-on-four portion was spent in Chicago’s offensive zone with the unit of Kane, Toews, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson controlling the puck but not able to capitalize. Boston’s power play after the Pouliot penalty ended did not yield many chances, either, until Dennis Seidenberg blasted a shot that rang off the goal post. Boston pressured until the horn sounded, but Crawford stood tall in net down the stretch.
The overtime period saw shots at both ends, but the best chances were again from the Bruins’ skaters. Seidenberg put a backhand shot on net that resulted in a brief scramble in front of Crawford. Rich Peverley had the two best opportunities, the first shot a high attempt that Crawford answered with a brilliant save. Lucic took the puck away from Kane in the Hawks’ zone and sprung Peverley on his second excellent opportunity of the overtime. Peverley was wide open from center ice all the way in on Crawford, but he put his backhand shot wide of the net after getting Crawford down.
Joel Quenneville sent Toews, Kane, and Sharp into the shootout but Tim Thomas denied all three chances. Crawford wasn’t even challenged on the Bruins’ second attempt because Patrice Bergeron mishandled the puck, but Tyler Seguin snuck one through the five-hole on Boston’s first attempt and it held up as the deciding goal.
– Chicago’s scratches were Marian Hossa, Rostislav Olesz, and Sami Lepisto. Hossa did not participate in the morning skate and was scratched for the game due to an upper-body injury. His absence opened a spot for Viktor Stalberg, playing in his first game of the regular season after suffering a leg injury during the pre-season. Stalberg skated mostly in Hossa’s spot on the second line with Dan Carcillo and Kane, showing his good speed but not coming away with too many chances.
– Olesz was a late scratch in favor of John Scott, who skated on the fourth line wing after spending the entire off-season and pre-season working as a defenseman. Not a bad night out of the fourth line overall, though. Jamal Mayers came away with a couple chances and won a decision in his fight with Gregory Campbell in the first frame. Marcus Kruger played one of his better games of the season, making a few sneaky passes that just missed turning into prime scoring chances. Kruger continued to see penalty kill time and even got a shift late in overtime.
– The announced crowd of 22,073 at the United Center saw the Blackhawks first loss at home of the 2011-12 season.
– Boston was without David Krejci and Adam McQuaid. Seguin stepped into the top line center spot and helped Lucic and Horton wreak havoc all night long.
– The Bruins late pressure in the third and in overtime resulted in a 14-9 shot disparity in the final 25 minutes of play. Corey Crawford carried the Hawks to the charity point just like he did on many nights a season ago.
– Both teams came up empty on three power play opportunities. The Bruins fell to 1-for-20 on the man advantage so far in 2011. The Blackhawks haven’t fared much better, going 2-for17 on their power play chances to start the season.
– In the shootout, Toews was able to get Thomas down and appeared to have him beat. He just missed elevating the puck over the leg pad of the Bruin goalie. Thomas made the last two saves look easy as he closed the five-hole on Kane and batted away Sharp’s attempt to go glove-side.