By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks turned a tight game into a bit of a laugher Wednesday night at the United Center, pulling away behind a big night by Jonathan Toews and Chicago’s surprising rookies. Both Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw both contributed two points as the Blackhawks cruised to a 6-2 win.
Chicago controlled the early going, but it was the Sabres getting on the board first when Brent Seabrook got caught a bit too far up the ice. Marian Hossa, who had just been denied a scoring chance in front of the net by Jhonas Enroth, dumped the puck into the corner. Jochen Hecht gathered the puck and fired a long pass that found the stick of Jason Pominville. The Sabres captain took advantage by beating Corey Crawford top shelf to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead with 9:30 in to the opening period.
Derek Roy was called for hooking moments later and the Blackhawks went on the power play. Hecht took advantage of a puck glancing off the referee and bore down on Crawford for what would have been a shorthanded tally. The attempt struck the post, skidded across the crease, and was kept out of the net by a quick-acting Patrick Kane.
Seconds after the Sabres killed the penalty, Steve Montador found Duncan Keith with an open shooting lane from the blue line. Keith’s shot clanked off the post, where rookie Andrew Shaw was once again Andrew-on-the-spot. Shaw slammed the puck home to tie the contest at a goal apiece.
A delay of game infraction gave the Blackhawks the opportunity they needed to take the lead. With Shaw providing the screen on Enroth, Brent Seabrook’s slap shot found the post. This time, Jonathan Toews took care of the put-back at 15:41 to make it 2-1 Chicago. Hossa hit the far post in the closing seconds, but the score held as the period ended.
Patrick Kaleta was able to goal rookie Jimmy Hayes into a roughing penalty early in the middle period, allowing Buffalo to even the score. Tyler Myers found Brad Boyes in the middle. Boyes made a nice feed to Pominville in the left faceoff circle. Crawford was a little slow getting across the crease, and Pominville made it hurt, beating the Chicago goalie for the equalizer at the 3:28 mark.
Two minutes later, Keith collected an ill-advised between the legs pass attempt by Ville Leino and got the puck to Hossa as he drove to the net. Hossa beat Enroth on the stick side, giving Chicago a 3-2 advantage.
The ‘Hawks killed off a Jamal Mayers boarding penalty, then doubled their lead with 6:35 to go when the Sabres got caught out of position on a shift change. Niklas Hjalmarsson found Andrew Brunette, who set up Hayes perfectly. Hayes went high to Enroth’s glove side for a redemptive goal that made the score 4-2 Chicago.
Hossa got another late opportunity which was knocked into the air by Enroth. Shaw caught the puck, knocked it off of the Buffalo net-minder, where Marcus Kruger sent it to the twine for what looked like the fifth Chicago goal. After some discussion, it was ruled that the whistle had been blown on suspicion of a hand pass by Shaw and the goal was disallowed. Still, the ‘Hawks skated to the locker room up two goals.
Chicago got that fifth goal in the fifth minute of the third period, when Hayes took a pass from Dave Bolland into the corner. As he started toward the net, Hayes executed a drop pass between his legs back to Bolland. The Rat took the cheese, potting his fourteenth goal of the season as the lead stretched to 5-2.
Successive Buffalo penalties led to a 1:48 5-on-3 opportunity for the ‘Hawks, but Chicago only needed nine seconds of it to capitalize. Toews got to the doorstep and got the puck from Bolland. The captain tossed a soft wrister past Enroth and off the post for a 6-2 lead at the 6:48 mark.
-Apparently Ben Smith, who skated nine minutes, was supposed to visit a young man, Jimmy Newcomer, in a Rockford hospital last night, but had to cancel when he was recalled to Chicago. IceHogs GM Mark Bernard made good on the visit, with Kyle Beach, Ryan Stanton, Joe Lavin, Carter Hutton, and Brandon Svendsden in tow. Hutton shut out Texas on Monday and Svendsden knocked in the game-winner for Rockford. Nice story.
-Hayes, who was the game’s first star (Keith and Shaw were second and third stars), was denied the Gordie Howe Hat Trick by Kaleta, who wouldn’t drop the gloves with the big rookie two and a half minutes into the second period. Hayes received a roughing minor and Buffalo got a power play, which Jason Pominville scored on.
-The Sabres team that staggered into town Wednesday is in the midst of a nine-game road losing streak and leave with it now at ten games. Credit the ‘Hawks for taking care of business, but Buffalo is pathetic right now. Think they may be ready to make some deals?
-Mike Millbury commented that the ‘Hawks needed to get Patrick Kane, who was one of the few guys without a point tonight, out of his “depression”. Sure, he’s in a scoring funk, but he didn’t look like he was pouting at the end of the game. He did save a goal when it still mattered in the first period. He seemed to pick up an assist on Tazer’s first power play goal, but it was later determined that Shaw touched the puck and Kane lost the point. Talk about bad luck.
-Crawford had a fairly easy workload, stopping 26 of 28 shots.
-Don’t look now, but here comes Dave Bolland. With nine points in his last six games, Bolland is stepping up in the offensive zone. His career-high in goals is 19, set in 2008-09 when he played 81 games. He has 14 goals in 43 games this season.
-Paul Gaustad, has been tossed out by some as a possible trade target for the ‘Hawks, left the game after being boarded by Mayers and did not return.
-Next up for Chicago are the Panthers, who just lost Ed Jovanovski for a couple of months after he broke his hand in a fight. The Blackhawks defeated the Panthers in 3-2 in the shootout down in Sunrise back on November 3rd. On Wednesday night, the Panthers blew a 3-1 third period lead in Colorado and lost 4-3 in overtime to the Avs. Panthers are now 11-0-4 when leading after two periods. Stephen Weiss, Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg all had prime scoring chances in OT before Ryan O’Reilly ended the game.