By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks survived their first game of the Florida road trip, squeaking past the Panthers by a score of 3-2 in a shootout. The win brought Chicago’s shootout record back up to 2-2 and extended the team’s current winning streak to three games.
Jonathan Toews put the Blackhawks up 1-0 just over four minutes into the first period. Defenseman Sean O’Donnell cleared his zone with a flip pass towards the offensive end. The puck was collected by Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who played to his defensive partner Mike Weaver. Toews descended on the unsuspecting Weaver and forced the turnover to Andrew Brunette. The winger returned it to Toews as he crashed the net and the Hawks captain tipped the puck past the rookie Markstrom for the first goal of the game.
The Panthers out-shot the Hawks 15-7 in the opening frame but were unable to solve Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford. Scottie Upshall led the Florida attack with five shots.
Despite the shot disparity, Chicago extended their lead at the 5:41 mark of the second period. Patrick Kane carried the puck into the zone on the rush as Andrew Brunette attacked the front of the net. Brunette drew Kulikov closer to the crease and gave Kane a lane to pass across the zone to an open Marian Hossa. He ripped a quick one-timer between the legs of Markstrom to put the Hawks up by two goals.
It took Florida nearly 40 minutes, but they finally got one past Crawford when Stephen Weiss banged one home in the crease. Florida’s Tomas Fleischman carried the puck into the zone and dropped a pass to Kris Versteeg, whose pass found Weiss driving to the net. Weiss fought through a check from Brent Seabrook in front of the crease and was able to get into position for a wide open chance while Crawford was down. Credit Ed Jovanosvki for skating directly to the front of Crawford’s net on the rush, taking Niklas Hjalmarsson out of the play and giving Florida a numbers advantage on the rush.
The combination of Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg created a series of chances later in the third period. On one opportunity, Versteeg carried the puck into the zone and centered to an open Weiss. Crawford made a pad save on Weiss, but Sean O’Donnell’s clearing attempt off the boards went right to Kulikov. His shot was redirected by fellow-defenseman Ed Jovanovski as he drove to the net, knotting the game up at 2 goals apiece with just over two minutes left in regulation.
Overtime saw both teams get a chance to win it. Crawford stopped consecutive shots from Tomas Kopecky and Marcel Goc on one shift, while Markstrom stood tall on a prime scoring opportunity from Dave Bolland. Markstrom gave up a rebound off of Michael Frolik’s initial shot and Bolland got his stick on the loose puck in the crease, but the goalie was able to get the puck in his glove.
The Blackhawks went to the shootout for the fourth time in the first 12 games of the season. Crawford loomed large one again, stopping all three shooters that he faced. Toews and Bolland were each denied by Markstrom in the first two rounds. Patrick Kane shot third and delivered another deciding goal in the shootout, using his forehand-backhand move and tucking it between the legs of Markstrom to seal the victory.
- Duncan Keith was out of the line-up after taking a puck to the hand in Monday’s game against Nashville. Keith is listed as day-to-day but Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was noncommittal about his availability for Friday’s game. In Keith’s absence, Nick Leddy and Sean O’Donnell started the game, while the pairings of Seabrook-Hjalmarsson and Lepisto-Montador stayed consistent from the past couple games.
- John Scott and Rostislav Olesz were the other two scratches for the Blackhawks. Sami Lepisto dressed for his third consecutive game.
- The Blackhawks drew Jacob Markstrom in net for Florida, considered by many among the best goaltending prospects in the world. The Swedish netminder made a number of timely saves and took away a lot of the lower portion of the net with his 6’6 frame. He wanted the Hossa goal back, but was able to refocus and made a good glove save on a hard shot from Toews shortly after.
- Corey Crawford had a game of his own, single-handedly sustaining Chicago’s one-goal lead through much of the third period. He was able to control most of Florida’s shots and yielded very few rebounds through the first 40 minutes. The Blackhawks gave up a season-high 43 shots against the lowly Panthers offense, but Crawford managed to stop 41 of them. He still had to come up big in the shootout, though he was not especially challenged by the Kopecky, Goc, Fleischman line-up.
- Brian Campbell led all skaters with 31:41 of ice time. Kris Versteeg led the Florida forwards with 25:15 of ice time against his former team. Brent Seabrook carried the load with Keith out, playing 31:22 on the night. Niklas Hjalmarsson finished second on Chicago with 25:55. Nick Leddy (23:50) and Sean O’Donnell (21:06) set season-highs in ice time.
- Jamal Mayers dropped the gloves for his fourth fight of the season. After taking a late hit from Matt Bradley along the boards, he sprung to his feet to challenge him. Mayers overwhelmed the Panther’s forward with a flurry of shots, landing a couple punches before Bradley went down to the ice.
- Three stars of the game… 1. Corey Crawford, 2. Jacob Markstrom, 3. Patrick Kane
- Thursday was day three of the team’s Fathers trip, which features sun, golf, and some hockey on the side for the players and their fathers. Fortunately for those of us watching on a cold, rainy night in Chicago, the play-by-play was abandoned continuously in favor of a cute childhood story and details on the group’s golf outing.
- The Blackhawks (and their dads) will travel to Tampa for a Friday night contest against the Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum. The puck drops at 6:30 PM central time.
In addition to covering the Blackhawks for TheThirdManIn.com, Brad is also the Blackhawks’ correspondent at HockeysFuture.com.