By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks spotted Pittsburgh a three goal advantage over the first 40 minutes Tuesday night in the Consol Energy Center. A furious third period charge made for a fun finish, but the Penguins held on to hand the Blackhawks their first regulation loss of the month by the score of 3-2.
It was a rough and tumble contest that turned in a playoff-type atmosphere. Pittsburgh used a physical play to pave the way for the game’s first goal in the ninth minute of action.
Deryk Engelland attempted to remove Marcus Kruger’s head, which somehow went unpenalized save for John Scott jumping in and throwing down. As a result, Scott was assessed the instigator penalty. On the resulting power play, just over a minute later, the Penguins scored on a wrist shot by Chris Kunitz, assisted by Evgeni Malkin and Matt Niskanen.
Kruger appeared to be okay and finished the first period, but did not return for the second and third. Pittsburgh went into the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
The Blackhawks saw the deficit grow to three goals in the middle frame, with Chicago on their heels on the penalty kill for eight minutes of the second. Malkin and Niskanen picked up their second assists on the night when James Neal’s shot went in off the post just 2:45 in.
Malkin also helped set up Tyler Kennedy’s tally with 3:26 left in the period. Malkin made the pass out of his zone to Ben Lovejoy, who took it around the net and dumped it in front of Ray Emery for Kennedy to knock home for a 3-0 Penguins lead.
Going into the second intermission, the ‘Hawks were down a forward and playing sloppy, penalty-riddled hockey. Instead of packing it in for the final 20 minutes, Chicago reached back and came out for the third roaring like Hulk Hogan coming out of a sleeper hold.
Joel Quenneville sent out Patrick Kane between Marian Hossa and Viktor Stalberg, who had replaced rookie Jeremy Morin on the first line in the second period. It didn’t take long to see the move of Stalberg back onto a scoring line pay off.
Stalberg took control of a loose puck in the Blackhawks zone, found Jonathan Toews heading up the ice, and made a beeline for the Pittsburgh net. The pass intended for Stalberg found Miskanen’s stick, but Stalberg managed to nudge that stick and still get the puck in the net. Toews was credited with the goal and the lead was cut to two just 49 seconds into the third period.
Stalberg got a goal to call his own after an outstanding display of puck movement in the seventh minute. Brent Seabrook tossed the puck to Hossa at center ice, and he and Kane ran a back and forth weave down the ice, ending when Kane found Stalberg cutting to the net. Stalberg made good on the open net and with 13:48 to play, Chicago had sliced the deficit to 3-2.
The rest of the game was a tightly contested affair with big opportunities on both sides turned away by Emery and Marc-Andre Fleury. The only penalty of the period came when Neal tripped Kane coming into the Pittsburgh zone with 1:29 left. Emery was pulled for a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Blackhawks couldn’t complete the comeback.
-If Stalberg was out to make a case for his spot on the first line occupied by Morin these last two games, mission accomplished. He was a plus-two for the night with two points. He also hit the post twice in the third period on the way to a team-high nine shots on the game.
Morin, after turning in a decent if not noteworthy performance Sunday against Calgary, looked out of place on the top line in Pittsburgh. For the time being, Stalberg’s earned his spot in the top-six back.
-Even though it created the power play that led to a goal, I have to give a huge GOOD FOR JOHN SCOTT on the aftermath of Engelland’s cheap shot. We finally see Scott go in and whale on a guy who took a run at a smaller, defenseless teammate. If dropping the gloves cost the ‘Hawks a game after a stretch of nine wins in eleven games, so be it. As Kenny Rogers once crooned, “Sometimes you’ve got to fight when you’re a man.”
-It sounded like Kruger was on the bench for part of the second period. No one was home, however. It doesn’t appear that he’ll be available Wednesday. Of course, the ‘Hawks rolled the dice on Brent Seabrook after a big hit on Sunday, so we may have to wait and see if a call goes out to Rockford.
-Who gets that call? Ben Smith knows the way down I-90 by now, but why not get Brandon Pirri into the lineup? Of course, if Kane occupies the middle on the second line again, a wing may be more in demand.
-In the second intermission, Eddie Olczyk and Keith Jones debated whether Quenneville should pull Emery in favor of Corey Crawford. Jones was for leaving him in, while Olczyk was for inserting Crawford and getting ready for Wednesday’s game with Montreal…really? Give up after 40 minutes? I was glad to see Emery out on the ice to open the third, and he helped keep his team in the game.
-I don’t think anyone should be happy about the first two periods, but some small solace has to be taken from the effort in the final 20 minutes. If the Blackhawks could muster that intensity for even 40-45 minutes a night, not many teams could keep up.
-It’s too bad there is no return match with the Penguins at the United Center. That’s just one more advantage to the realignment schedule that guarantees a home and home with every team.