By Chris Block
The Blackhawks were able to beat winter storm Hercules out east, but on Thursday night they were not up to the task of beating the Eastern Conference’s second-worst team, the New York Islanders.
Ultimately one sloppy period and two costly mental errors cost Chicago in a 3-2 overtime loss on Long Island. Brent Seabrook and Ben Smith notched the goals for the Blackhawks while Casey Cizikas, Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo scored for the home team. Corey Crawford was solid in his crease return, but not good enough as his counterpart Evgeni Nabokov stood as the Islanders’ top performer on this evening.
The Islanders struck first with 4:36 left in the opening frame when Casey Cizikas stole a puck from Bryan Bickell inside the neutral zone and strode off into a one-on-one with Corey Crawford. Bickell accepted a pass from Johnny Oduya and attempted to stickhandle around Cizikas in the Hawks’ side of the neutral area. Problem was, Oduya and Hjalmarsson were going off on a change and there was no one back to defend after Cizikas poked the puck away from Bickell. Shaw was circling up at center ice looking for a pass. And Brandon Saad was standing still at the offensive blue line. So, Cizikas took possession, got a full stride on Bickell and was off on a breakaway. Cizikas deked Crawford with a backhand to forehand move and slid the puck around the Blackhawks netminder and into the back of the net to give the Isles a 1-0 advantage.
The Cizikas goal came on the Islanders’ fifth shot of the contest. The Hawks held them without a shot or much zone time for the remainder of the period but the score remained 1-0 after twenty minutes.
At 8:09 of the second period, Thomas Vanek pounced on a rebound opportunity for his 14th goal of the season to give the Isles a 2-0 lead. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald’s shot from the left point was knocked down in front, but to Vanek, who potted the goal with a quick backhand try just to Crawford’s right.
New York was much improved in the second period, pressuring the Hawks and taking advantage of some uncharacteristically poor passing by the Hawks. Through the first 10:54 of the second, the Isles were outshooting the Hawks 11-7 in the period.
Chicago finally snuck one past Evgeni Nabokov when Brent Seabrook pinched down into the left faceoff circle and one-timed a Kris Versteeg pass on the power play to trim the Islanders’ lead to 2-1. The New York penalty kill forwards had crossed over and lost sight of Seabrook, but Versteeg didn’t and found him with a perfect setup pass for Seabrook’s 5th goal on the campaign.
The Hawks nearly tied the game before intermission when Patrick Kane had a great chance from the right circle but couldn’t elevate the puck high enough into the top right corner behind Nabokov.
Before the period ended, Patrick Sharp put two cross-checks on the back of Thomas Hickey after Hickey had released the puck in his own end. The second cross-check earned Sharp a minor penalty with 24.5 seconds to go before the second intermission.
The Hawks penalty killers nixed the remainder of that Isles power play to start off the third period. Once out of the box, Sharp joined the attack into New York’s zone. Below the goal line, Sharp accepted a feed from Jonathan Toews. Sharp, unchallenged by the closest Isle, Casey Cizikas, rushed out to the left post for a stuff attempt that Nabokov closed off. Toews then crashed the crease for the rebound. With several players tied up at the crease, Ben Smith swooped in, found the puck and potted his 5th goal of the season to tie the game 2-2 at the 1:50 mark of the third.
John Tavares blew a chance to regain the lead with 11:38 to go in regulation when he shanked a shot at a wide open side after Kyle Okposo slid a pass down to Tavares on the weak side. It wasn’t the easiest chance as Tavares was in tight to the left post on his left-handed shooting forehand, but still one a player of his caliber should have netted.
The Isles got another chance to take the game with 6:47 to go when Andrew Shaw hit Brian Strait from behind and between the numbers into the glass deep in the Islanders end. On the ensuing kill, Michal Handzus made a potentially goal-saving play when he closed down and intercepted a centering pass in front of Crawford’s crease and then cleared the puck.
With two minutes left on the third period clock, Crawford made his biggest save of the night when he robbed Kyle Okposo’s wrist shot from 20 feet out down the middle of the slot to keep the game tied 2-2.
In overtime, the Isles first line came down into the Hawks zone on Duncan Keith and Sharp, acting as a defenseman with Niklas Hjalmarsson out of the play. Sharp got overaggressive and drifted over to double-team a John Tavares shot attempt. Keith either blocked or pokechecked (depending on how you want to look at it) Tavares attempt, but right over to Okposo, who was left all alone by Sharp. Okposo fired another 20 foot wrist shot, this time by Crawford and inside the right post to end the game at the 58 second mark of overtime.
The Islanders local media selected the three stars of the game as 1-Kyle Okposo, 2-Evgeni Nabokov, 3-Ben Smith.
Nabokov made 37 saves in picking up the win. Crawford stopped 31 Isles’ shots in his return from the lower-body ailment that kept him out of the Hawks’ lineup for 3 and a half weeks.
The Hawks remain in the path of Hercules for at least one more day as they bus over to New Jersey today where they face off with the Devils on Friday night. The Blackhawks will have to be back home on Sunday night when they’ll meet San Jose for a 7:00pm NBC Sports network matchup. The Sharks will be in Colorado on Saturday afternoon for a game with the Avalanche before traveling to Chicago.
–Joel Quenneville’s lines, pairs, scratches & specials on Long Island
10-Patrick Sharp / 19-Jonathan Toews / 81-Marian Hossa
23-Kris Versteeg / 26-Michal Handzus / 88-Patrick Kane
29-Bryan Bickell / 65-Andrew Shaw / 20-Brandon Saad
52-Brandon Bollig / 16-Marcus Kruger / 28-Ben Smith
2-Duncan Keith / 7-Brent Seabrook
27-Johnny Oduya / 4-Niklas Hjalmarsson
8-Nick Leddy / 6-Mike Kostka
50-Corey Crawford (starter)
30-Jason LaBarbera (traveled, did not dress)
Scratches: LaBarbera… D-17-Sheldon Brookbank… D-32-Michal Rozsival…
Power play I: Toews-Kane-Shaw w/Keith & Sharp
Power play II: Versteeg-Hossa-Saad w/Leddy & Seabrook
PK forwards: Kruger-Handzus, Toews-Hossa, Saad-Smith
PK defense: Keith-Hjalmarsson, Oduya-Seabrook
–New York Islanders lineup versus the Blackhawks 1/2/14
26-Thomas Vanek / 91-John Tavares / 21-Kyle Okposo
40-Michael Grabner / 51-Frans Nielsen / 15-Cal Clutterbuck
29-Brock Nelson / 18-Ryan Strome / 13-Colin McDonald
17-Matt Martin / 53-Casey Cizikas / 16-Peter Regin
44-Calvin de Haan / 3-Travis Hamonic
47-Andrew MacDonald / 14-Thomas Hickey
37-Brian Strait / 7-Matt Carkner
20-Evgeni Nabokov (starter)