By Brad Vandenberk
After a victory on Sunday night at the UC over the woeful Oilers, the Blackhawks are slowly trying to climb out of this mini slump that they have on the go. The road ahead did not get any easier when the Colorado Avalanche invade the United Center on Tuesday evening. Then, on Friday it’s the NHL best team the Anaheim Ducks. And finally, an afternoon Stanley Cup rematch is on tap on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. when the pesky Boston Bruins come to town. The Avalanche would be a great test for the reigning Cup champs to test their ability as a team and try to start racking up some wins.
Corey Crawford played lights out in Montreal on Saturday allowing the Hawks to escape with at least 1 point. The Avalanche always seem to give the Hawks trouble no matter what arena they play. The last time these two teams met, was on December 27 when they showed the young Avs a thing or two beating them badly 7-2. This could shape up to look like a first round playoff matchup if the Hawks can’t beat the Blues for top spot in the Central Division. Crawford got the call again and the Avalanche countered with Semyon Varlamov. Sheldon Brookbank and Michael Kostka were the scratches.
Patrick Sharp had a huge jump in his step right off the opening faceoff. He chases a puck in the Avs zone and Erik Johnson gets called for interference 10 seconds into the game. During the power play Andre Benoit blocks a shot and heads to the bench and then the dressing room. Nick Leddy stops a Ryan O’Reilly attempt and Crawford stands strong. Michal Handzus’s new linemates work the puck in the offensive zone with some quality chances. Marian Hossa storms toward the net from the corner to try and stuff it past Varlamov. Duncan Keith tries to break out of his own zone and Gabriel Landeskog hooks his hands sending the Hawks to their second power play. The Hawks work a clinic on the man advantage but Varlamov is unbeatable. Finally Colorado breaks the tie. Tyson Barrie fires a harmless looking shot from the point and it sneaks past Crawford 1-0. At the 4:10 mark of the period Kris Versteeg heads to the box for hooking well behind the play. Good old 10 seconds later, O’Reilly finishes off a tic-tac-toe passing play and lifts one past Crawford giving them a 2-0 lead. On the ensuing faceoff Hossa takes a dumb hooking penalty putting the Avs right back on the power play. Ben Smith breaks in short handed but again the Russian net minder says no. The Hawks end the period on the power play when Maxime Talbot slashes Leddy’s stick to pieces. Hawks lead the shot advantage 13-9.
Not long after the penalty expired to open the period, the Hawks get another attempt when Matt Duchene slashes Smith. Varlamov stands tall and makes some great saves. Duchene jumps out of the box and finds himself on a breakaway. Crawford keeps him outside and he rings it off the post. Their puck possession becomes more of a game of keep away with Varlamov having and answer for every shot the Hawks throw at him. Hossa finds Jonathan Toews wide open at the side of the net. Toews fans on the puck during the attempt. Varlamov flashes his leather when Patrick Kane rips one intended for the top shelf. The Hawks begin to put the brave in front of the net to screen Varlamov. Even the D-men get involved. Brandon Saad grabs a puck off the boards and flies into the slot and snipes a shot which ricochets off a few sticks but eventually hits Johnny Oduya off the chest and finally past Varlamov 2-1. This ignites the home team as they keep their domination alive. Pucks are being fired from all over the offensive zone from everyone. With 25.3 seconds left in the period the Hawks get another late power play when Patrick Sharp breaks through the neutral zone and is tripped up by Jamie McGinn. The puck does go in at the 17 second mark but it was immediately waived off for an Andrew Shaw high stick. Hawks continue to lead in shots 29-15.
Hawks continue to put shots on Varlamov to open the third and while on the power play. Kane heads to the box for hooking allowing the Avalanche to add to their lead. Duchene again rings one off the post. With 12:33 remaining in the game, Hossa slips into the slot and sends a shot on net. Saad is there to try and jam home the rebound but it heads straight up in the air. Andrew Shaw corrals the puck as it hits the ground, spins and scores tying the game at 2. The chances continue to pile up for the Hawks with Rozsival being the only Hawks D man who didn’t have a shot on net after walking in and hitting the post. Crawford and Keith both help the Hawks stayed tied with some acrobatic saves. The Avs begin to come at the Hawks. The fans at the UC are lucky as this game heads to overtime.
Brent Seabrook makes a huge defensive play stopping Nathan Mackinnon using a sliding poke check. Hossa and Sharp both get chances to end this game. Kane even tries his spin-o-rama. With just 1:26 left in the extra period, Toews loses the puck to Benoit who is free and clear on a breakaway. Toews hooks him up and gets called for the penalty. 36 seconds into the 4-on-3 power play, the Avs make the captain pay. Barrie hammers a point shot past Crawford getting his second of the night and giving the Avalanche the 3-2 OT victory.
Sharp Toews Hossa Keith Seabrook
Saad Shaw Kane Oduya Hjalmarsson
Bickell Handzus Versteeg Leddy Rozsival
Bollig Kruger Smith
-Hawks outshot the Avalanche 48-26.
-Hawks go 0/5 on the power play with the Avs going 2/4.
-Keith led all Hawks in TOI with 28:10, D partner Seabrook was next with 24:57
-Toews went 21/29 in the faceoff dot Shaw 6/12, Handzus 2/6 and Kruger 7/13
-Sharp led all Hawks with 9 shots on goal; Hjalmarsson had 6 with Kane adding 4.
-Next up the Hawks host the Ducks on Friday night at the UC.