By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks looked to say goodbye to the United Center for the next six weeks with a win over the Winnipeg Jets. For two-thirds of Sunday’s game, a win seemed likely. Instead, the Hawks head to the road having lost three straight after the Jets rallied to beat Chicago 3-1.
Chicago native Al Montoya was the difference for Winnipeg, stopping 34 of 35 shots and giving the Jets the opportunity to hang around long enough to snatch a victory from the Blackhawks.
First Period-The fourth line got things off to a great start on the game’s second shift, pinning the Jets in their own zone and taking a 1-0 advantage off a wraparound goal by Brandon Bollig. Taking a pass from Ben Smith, Bollig came around to the left post and threw the puck off of Montoya’s stick and right pad to open the scoring 1:21 into the contest.
A Chris Thornburn hooking penalty gave the Hawks a power play in the third minute but Chicago couldn’t muster a lot of pressure. Brandon Saad found Patrick Kane at the right post in the seventh minute but Montoya was there with the pad save.
Throughout the first 7:30 of play, Winnipeg was outshot 7-0 with most of the action taking place in the Jets’ zone. After a media timeout, Patrick Sharp hit Marian Hossa, who had gotten behind the Winnipeg defense. Montoya made the save but was shaken up when Mark Stuart sent Hossa into the crease. Montoya remained in the game, however.
The Jets appeared to have a scoring chance when Dustin Byfuglien’s pass to Zach Bogosian provided a good look at the net. Bogisian couldn’t find the handle and Corey Crawford smothered the loose puck near the midway point of the period.
Chicago was caught with too many men on the ice at the 11:21 mark. Kris Versteeg went to the box to serve and the Jets had a chance to even the score. Winnipeg sent a lone shot to the net as the penalty expired. The Hawks actually had the better scoring chance when Versteeg drove to the net coming out of the box.
Chicago hammered Montoya with 18 shots in the first 20 minutes but couldn’t bring rubber to twine and build on the early lead. Bollig had a couple of whacks at the net in the final minute that the Winnipeg goalie turned away. Mark Stuart was whistled for boarding Kruger with eight seconds left and the Hawks went to the locker room up a goal and on the power play to begin the second period.
Second Period-The Jets killed the remaining power play time, but Chicago continued to operate in the Winnipeg zone in the middle frame. A Toews tip in was deflected away in the fifth minute. Andrew Shaw redirected a Sheldon Brookbank shot that went wide of the net two minutes later.
Shaw got hold of a loose puck at the 9:27 mark and hit Kane coming to the left side of the net. Montoya slid over and got in front of Kane’s attempt. Kane stickhandled to the net a minute later and sent a backhand attempt that Montoya stopped as well.
Sharp and Jacob Trouba got a little chippy near the Hawks bench, resulting in matching roughing calls and some 4-on-4 time. Saad’s back check prevented Bogosian from getting a clear shot on Crawford, then nearly got a feed from Niklas Hjalmarsson on the other end that Montoya broke up.
The Jets had an open net in the 14th minute after Little’s shot was kept out with a pad save from Crawford. Andrew Ladd followed up but Brookbank stopped the attempt with his skate to keep Winnipeg off the scoreboard.
Smith was tripped by Tobias Enstrom with 4:14 to go in the period. Montoya gloved a high shot by Jonathan Toews midway through the power play. The Hawks again failed to extend the lead despite being in total control of the action. Montoya absorbed another Toews shot with 20 seconds left and Winnipeg remained in the game entering the second intermission. Chicago had outshot the Jets 27-6 through 40 minutes but the lead was just a single goal.
Third Period-Saad made a nice move to the net in the second minute but the shot was blocked by Montoya. Sharp got loose for a breakaway in the fourth minute but the attempt was wide.
Olli Jokinen got off a shot that Crawford sent to the corner as the Jets began to generate a bit of offense. Michael Frolik came up the right side and got the puck on net. Crawford allowed a rebound out front but slid over to deny Adam Pardy 5:40 into the third.
The Jets continued to be more aggressive and succeeded in tying the game at the 8:16 mark. Evander Kane had a shot blocked by Bollig but the puck came out to the right circle. Blake Wheeler swooped in and sent the puck over Crawford’s glove to even the contest at a goal apiece.
Momentum, which had been with the Hawks all evening, tilted towards Winnipeg. Through the first half of the final period, the Jets had more shots on goal than they had in the previous 40 minutes. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville employed his timeout after an icing call with 7:37 to go. Byfuglien sent a shot toward net immediately after the next face off that was off the mark. Seconds later, he sent another shot that Crawford gloved.
Thirty seconds later, Ladd stole a pass from Hossa and sent a shot from about 35 feet in the middle of the ice. The puck appeared to flutter off of the leg of Duncan Keith and got past Crawford, giving the Jets a 2-1 lead with 7:07 left.
The Blackhawks made a desperate bid to pull even. Versteeg got a feed from Kane and had some open net, but the attempt was off the mark. Crawford was pulled in the 19th minute, but Wheeler put the game away with a block of a Kane shot and empty net goal.
Three Stars-Bollig (third), Ladd (second), Montoya (first).
-After big wins over Anaheim and Boston last weekend, Chicago has underwhelmed in its last three games. This game was the culmination of a frustrating week of action as a dominating performance for 40 minutes went to waste. Yuck.
-The Hawks were 23-0-3 after leading after two periods heading into Sunday. Again, yuck.
-Crawford sure didn’t have a real busy night and it would be easy to just saddle him with the loss after the eventual game-winner seemed to be kind of soft. Upon further review, it does look like the puck got a piece of Keith before knuckling over Crow’s glove. Don’t forget Hossa throwing it to Ladd to start that sequence.
-The PK unit did stop both Jets power plays and is looking better the last few games. Finishes like tonight don’t exactly make me want to cheer about that, tough.
-Bollig registered a big hit on Blake Wheeler not long after his sixth goal of the season, so Pat Foley was a happy camper. Bollig now has two more goals than Michal Handzus and one fewer than Bryan Bickell.
-Foley and Steve Konroyd were explaining the Jets moving Byfuglien from defense to forward, saying the team felt he would be more effective skating fewer minutes. Is this another way of suggesting that Byfuglien is out of shape?
-The Blackhawks fourth line skated longer than the third line Sunday. Quenneville scratched Bickell, saying after the game that he needed more. Meanwhile, Handzus skated 8:14 and Michael Kostka was on the ice for 7:26. Versteeg led that line with 10:54 of ice time. Kruger, Smith and Bollig all were on the ice for over 11 minutes.
-Could it be time to bring Brandon Pirri or Jeremy Morin up for the upcoming road trip? Handzus hasn’t logged a point in his last 14 games. Pirri just got back in the lineup after a lower body injury in Rockford. If Bickell can’t spark that third line right now, why not try one of the youngsters?
-A six-game road trip before the Olympic break gets underway in Calgary Tuesday night.