Feb 032012

By Brad Gardner

The Blackhawks returned to the scene of perhaps the lowest point of the season in their 9-2 drubbing at the hands of Edmonton in November. It was another nightmarish game for the ‘Hawks at Rexall Place as the Oilers came very close to appeasing the “We want 10!” chants from the November game, winning by a score of 8-4 behind an eight-point effort from Sam Gagner.

Jamal Mayers got things started 6:29 into the first period. He took a wrist shot a couple strides into the zone and the puck found it’s way past Dubnyk to the short side. The goal was Mayer’s fifth of the season and second in as many games.

Chicago carried the 1-0 lead into the first intermission and then Patrick Sharp extended it further 40 seconds into the second period. Patrick Kane robbed Ryan Smyth of the puck in the neutral zone and carried it into the zone with a 2-on-1 advantage. Kane set up Sharp for the one-timer, which beat Dubnyk between the legs as he slid across the crease. 

The Oilers would not go quietly, pulling back within one on a breakaway goal by Taylor Hall. Sam Gagner sent a stretch pass from the defensive zone right onto the tape of Hall. Brent Seabrook appeared to recover on the play and kept Hall from getting everything on his shot. The slow puck still slid past Crawford, pulling the Oilers within a goal at 2:22 of the second period.

Sam Gagner pulled Edmonton even about five minutes later on a wrap-around goal. Gagner’s first look was to Ryan Smyth parked in the crease, but Crawford blocked the passing lane. The rebound was recovered by Gagner and he was able to get the wrap-around before Crawford could regain his net. Crawford got tangled up with Nick Leddy on the initial chance and had his path to the post blocked on the other side by a battle between Smyth and Marian Hossa inside the crease.

Edmonton’s power play was given even more opportunities after they tied it up with Bryan Bickell taking a pair of penalties during the second period. His second penalty, a boarding call in which he neglected to play the puck and checked Gagner right in the numbers, eventually led to Edmonton’s first lead of the game.

Ryan Whitney scored the power play goal at 12:23 of the middle frame, giving the home team a 3-2 advantage on their fourth power play opportunity of the game. Smyth again was a factor around the net, shielding Crawford from ever seeing the slap shot from Whitney.

Brent Seabrook was whistled for a tripping penalty when Hall went down trying to squeeze between the defenseman and Kane. With the ‘Hawks needing a big kill to stay within striking range, Patrick Sharp did one better with a shorthanded goal. Hjalmarsson chipped the puck around the boards to spring Toews and Sharp on a 2-on-1. Toews took the shot but the rebound went right to the stick of Sharp and he tied the game 3-3.

Even after the ‘Hawks gave up the early two-goal lead, the game was still up for grabs entering the third period. It was the Oilers who took control with two goals against Crawford in the opening four minutes of the third. Gagner caught Crawford out of his net and scored the first on a long bounce off the end boards. Former Chicago defenseman Cam Barker made it a 5-3 game on a shot from the blue line that baffled Crawford’s glove.

Dave Bolland got one back at 5:57 of the third period when Dubnyk could not glove a shot from Andrew Shaw, but the momentum was short-lived.

Edmonton pushed the lead back to two goals on Gagner’s hat-trick goal about 30 seconds later. Hall was the first to the puck on the forecheck and fed Gagner streaking into the zone. He beat Emery to the far side to make it a 6-4 hockey game.

The home team sealed it with two more goals later in the third period, both on tic-tac-toe passing plays by the Oilers’ top line. Gagner finished the team’s seventh goal on a set-up from Eberle and he returned the favor on the line’s next shift, making it an 8-4 final.

Game Notes:

– Sam Gagner entered the game with 22 points in 43 games on the season and only three multi-point efforts to date. His eight points tonight tied a franchise record held by Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey. He became only the 13th player in NHL history to score eight points in a single game and the first since Mario Lemieux in the late 1980’s.

– After committing zero penalties on Tuesday against Vancouver, the Blackhawks were whistled for seven minor penalties in Edmonton. The penalty kill turned in an admirable effort in killing off six of them against one of the league’s top power plays, but the team still lost a lot of momentum playing down a man for so long.

– The ‘Hawks may not have seen former goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin in net, but former-defenseman Cam Barker notched his first goal of the season in his return to the Oilers’ line-up after missing 30 games with an ankle injury. He also blew a tire in the first period that led to a prime scoring chance for Andrew Shaw, but it rang off the inside of the post.

– Corey Crawford was pulled for the fifth time this season. He faced a ton of traffic and the skilled Oilers forwards were given a lot of room to operate in their offensive end, but the game went downhill fast in the third – he got caught too far out of his net on Gagner’s second goal and plain missed a catchable shot from Barker.

– Devan Dubnyk continued his hot play, having won three of his last four starts with a 3-0-1 record. He finished with 43 saves – 10 of those saves were on Jonathan Toews alone and he had another five saves on Patrick Sharp’s seven shots.

– Andrew Brunette skated only a few shifts before leaving with an upper-body injury. Quenneville was noncommittal on the extent of the injury after the game, so keep an eye out for an update tomorrow.

– The Blackhawks mercifully take the ice right away on Friday night in Calgary, an 8pm central start.

Brad Gardner

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