By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks escaped with 3-2 regulation victory over the visiting Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night at the United Center. Despite entering the third period down by a goal, the home team had the legs at the end to extend their streak to 24 games to start the season without a regulation loss.
Jonathan Toews scored a shorthanded goal early in the third period to tie the game, exploiting forward Ryan O’Reilly in the defensive zone for a highlight reel goal against Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
The score remained knotted for almost 17 minutes, but inside the final minute of regulation, Daniel Carcillo banged home a rebound to put the Blackhawks ahead. Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg chipped in on the forecheck and the scramble in front of the net, but it was Carcillo’s whack that put the puck between Varlamov’s legs to seal the win.
The victory was not without its losses as the team finished the game without three regular forwards. Marian Hossa was a late scratch despite taking part in the shoot-around. Andrew Shaw, who did not play the third period, caught an elbow from Paul Stastny as he skated in for a hit. The Hawks also lost Patrick Sharp in the third period after he was crunched along the boards and needed help getting off the ice and into the locker room.
One of the injured Blackhawks, Shaw, was the same player who opened scoring in Wednesday’s contest midway through the first period. During a Chicago power play, Colorado defenseman Matt Hunwick lost control of the puck in his own zone and the Hawks were able to control it. Brandon Saad sent the puck from the sideboards to Brent Seabrook at the point, whose quick shot made it through the traffic in front and deflected off the stick of Shaw, beating Varlamov. Shaw was in his usual spot in front of the net on the power play, but the tip-in was a bit of a departure from his normal habit of cleaning up the loose pucks.
The Avalanche would answer later in the opening period on a goal by John Mitchell at 18:10 of the first. Ryan O’Reilly, playing in his third game of the season following his contract holdout, carried the puck into the zone and set up Chuck Kobasew in the slot. He lost the puck off his stick but it went right to Mitchell, skating up the right slot all alone, and he was able to lift the puck on his backhand and fit it between Emery’s skate and the post.
Despite a pair of power play chances for the Blackhawks in the first half of the second period, it was Colorado’s Matt Duchene who registered the next goal at 13:17 of the second. In the Avalanche end, Patrick Sharp was thwarted by Varlamov on a strong drive to the net. As the Avs got into the zone at the other end, Duchene ran a give-and-go with Pierre Parenteau. Emery did not appear to give Duchene much to shoot at, the Avs’ scoring leader held the puck until he was almost to the goal line, but then he flicked backhander that bounced off of Emery and into the net.
The Avalanche took the 2-1 lead into the second intermission but had chances to extend that lead on both sides of the break. Colorado earned a power play about two minutes after Duchene’s goal but they could not capitalize. Mitchell later drew iron with less than 20 seconds to go in the second period.
The visitors were poised to extend the lead again in the third when Michal Rozsival hooked Matt Duchene to prevent a breakaway. The hook was ineffective – Duchene got all the way in on Emery but drew iron – but the infraction was called nonetheless.
During the Avs’ power play, Toews and Dave Bolland were able to create a rush against two Avalanche forwards, O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn. Bolland gained the zone and dropped the puck off for Toews. Bolland skated on and knocked the stick out of McGinn’s hands while Toews went to work on O’Reilly. Toews had no problem getting to the net and holding onto the puck to beat Varlamov to the far post.
With around a minute left in regulation, Carcillo received a long stretch pass at the blue line. He entered the zone and dropped the puck off to a speeding Kruger, who found no passing options and took a tight-angle shot on Varlamov. The shot was saved but Kruger pursued the puck and was eventually able to work it from below the goal line to Stalberg in front of the net. Although he was tied up by the Colorado defenseman, Carcillo was able to swipe the puck on his backhand to beat Varlamov, completing the comeback for the 3-2 win.
– Prior to the injury, Patrick Sharp was a game low minus-two but he registered five shots on goal, many of which were prime scoring opportunities.
– Sharp’s immediate status remained unclear after the game, but it appears he will miss some time. When asked by the media contingent if Sharp’s injury was season-ending, Joel Quenneville responded with “I don’t think so.” All that is clear at this point is Sharp has an upper-body injury.
– Colorado got out to an early lead at the faceoff dot, but Chicago balanced it out by winning six straight draws to begin the third period, two of which were during the Avs power play.
– Carcillo became the 13th Blackhawks player to score a game-winning goal this season.
– Jonathan Toews led all Blackhawks in ice time with 22:57. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brandon Saad (who moved to Toews’ right wing in the absence of Hossa) were all within a minute of Toews’ total. Colorado defenseman Ryan O’Byrne led all players with 23:56.
– 3 Stars of the Game: 3. Matt Duchene… 2. Daniel Carcillo… 1. Jonathan Toews
– NBC Sports has a headstart on realignment with both of the Blackhawks’ appearances on Rivalry Wednesday, with the first coming against Minnesota. Both the Wild and the Avalanche would become division rivals of the Blackhawks under the league’s latest proposal.
– Marian Hossa was a late scratch with an upper-body injury, described by Joel Quenneville during the in-game interview as “nothing serious.” Michael Frolik remained out of the lineup with the flu – he was not expected to travel with the team to Colorado, but he may actually be one of the healthier forwards.
– Brandon Bollig was assigned to Rockford to make room for Steve Montador, who was activated from IR on Wednesday.
– Game two of the home-and-home with the Avalanche will be played Friday at 8pm central.