By Brad Vandenberk
After an absolute debacle in Nashville on Saturday night, it was time for Kris Versteeg to get his long awaited ovation at the United Center on Sunday evening. The visiting, San Jose Sharks, were coming off a five game road trip that saw them go 3-0-1 thus far. Nikolai Khabibulin was put on the IR this morning which meant that Antti Raanta was recalled from Rockford to sit behind Crawford who got his 19th start of the year. After Khabby left with an injury on Saturday night, Crawford was called upon to not only finish that game, but start against the Sharks who are battling the Hawks for tops in the Western Conference.
Marian Hossa was a late scratch on Saturday night, but this was not known as he took the warm ups. It was later diagnosed as a lower body injury. He would also miss this contest as well. Sheldon Brookbank found his “regular” spot on the 3rd line right wing. The Hawks had to face familiar foe Antti Niemi for this one.
The opening period looked liked two teams getting to know each other. Versteeg had jump in his step tonight, especially after the UC crowd was delighted to a “Welcome Back” video montage. Sharks try to get to Crawford early swarming the net. Logan Couture rings a puck off the iron. Crawford shows no signs of fatigue as he makes some brilliant saves on the Sharks. The Hawks get their first power play attempt when Andrew Desjardins heads to the box for hooking. The Hawks cannot generate a chance on Niemi and the score remains tie at zero. Pucks continue to be fired on Niemi and the Hawks do a great job being a presence in front of the net. It finally works. Patrick Kane gets his shot block in the slot and the puck bounces to a wide open Brandon Pirri who swipes it home making it 1-0. Sharks get a late power play opportunity when Brandon Bollig gets called for roughing. Crawford stands tall and the Hawks get out of the period leading 1-0.
Just over two minutes into the middle frame, newly acquired Versteeg, sends a mixed message to the bench and the refs arm flies up indicating a Too Many Men penalty. Toews and Johnny Oduya break in shorthanded on a 2 on 1 and the Hawks kill the Sharks second man advantage. The Hawks must have been given quite the talk after being embarrassed the night previous, because there was a ton of fight in this game. The Sharks finally get one passed Crawford. Joe Pavelski walks across the blue line and flutters a shot toward Crawford. Crawford thinks he has it in his catcher, but instead throws it off his pad and into his own net 1-1 with 11: 44 remaining. The pace quickens and both goalies are tested time in and time out. Brandon Saad continued his strong game working a puck over to Marcus Kruger. He finds Patrick Sharp cross crease with a beautiful pass and Sharp airmails the shot past Niemi giving the Hawks a 2-1 lead. As the period comes to an end, Bryan Bickell hammers Jason Demers behind his own net. The Hawks lead the Sharks in shots 17-14.
Toews ignites the UC crowd just 3:39 into the final stage. He saunters out of the corner and sends a shot on Niemi. The Sharks net minder slides the puck to the side and Toews gathers the rubber and tucks it in giving the Hawks a 3-1 lead. The Sharks look to try and find their legs as the Hawks are out to prove something. Crawford makes a great save with Tyler Kennedy redirecting a shot on net. Bickell starts to show off his slap shot sending two good chances on Niemi in one shift. Saad again breaks in and beats the Sharks defense. He can’t bury on the initial shot but he follows up his rebound, spotting an eager Versteeg and the “new” kid in town puts his first in as a 2nd time Hawk, 4-1. The Hawks don’t quit there, they come back hard at Niemi with Sharp and Keith both exchanging great scoring chances. Sharp breaks in on Marc Edouard Vlasic and the team Canada hopeful, trips Sharp and the ref points to center ice for the penalty shot. He heads in on Niemi and with a quick fore hand , back hand move he sends it to the top of the net and the Hawks beat the Sharks 5-1.
Sharp Toews Saad Keith Seabrook
Versteeg Pirri Kane Oduya Hjalmarsson
Bickell Shaw Brookbank Leddy Rozsival
Bollig Kruger Smith
-Hawks outshot the Sharks 27-24
-Hawks go 0/1 on the power play with the Sharks going 0/2.
-Sharp led the team with 3 points (2G, 1A), Saad gets 2A, Pirri and Versteeg both go 1G, 1A.
-Oduya led all Hawks in TOI with 21:26. Closest Hawk was Hjalmarsson 21:09.
-Toews went 11/20 in the face off dot. Pirri 3/9, Shaw 3/7 and Kruger 6/8.
-The Hawks will now embark on their annual Circus road trip which sees them on the road for the next 7 games starting on Tuesday in Colorado.