By Chris Block
It wasn’t pretty, but the Blackhawks survived a Jets onslaught and pulled out a huge win Sunday night in Winnipeg that may have solidified the Hawks a playoff spot.
The third period began with Winnipeg leading 3-2 after Dustin Byfuglien power play goal in the final minute of the second period gave the Jets their second lead of the night.
Patrick Sharp tied the contest at 6:27 of the third, pouncing on a loose puck and a breakaway from near center ice after Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom became entangled with linesman Don Henderson and lost his stick with Sharp in pursuit.
The Hawks then won the game with 31 seconds left in regulation after some cycling by the top line and a Jonathan Toews re-direct on a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot. The goal was Toews’ 25th, which marks the 6th time in Toews’ eight year career that he’s scored 25 or more goals in a season. And in one of those seasons, the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, Toews posted 23 goals in 47 games played.
Byfuglien tallied two goals on Sunday, his 17th and 18th, against the Blackhawks organization that raised him. Blake Wheeler potted his 25th of the season in short-handed fashion in the second period on a 3 on 2 break after Andrew Shaw took off for the bench on an ill-advised change.
Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 34 shots he faced in picking up his 31st victory (31-17-5). Ondrej Pavelec faced the Hawks for the first time this season and took the loss in a 20 save effort.
This was a proverbial, crucial 4-point game between teams battling for playoff positioned.
In a win, Winnipeg could have closed to within 2 points of the Blackhawks, and kept the Hawks out of the top 3 in the Central Division and thus in the top Wild Card spot the Hawks entered Sunday’s game in. Chicago was one point behind Minnesota for 3rd in the Central after the Wild posted back-to-back home wins over other playoff contenders, Calgary on Friday and the Kings on Saturday.
But with the Hawks prevailing on Sunday, they moved six points ahead of the Jets, thus essentially distancing themselves from Winnipeg and putting the Jets in a battle for a Wild Card spot at least for now.
The Hawks now trail St. Louis by 3 points for 2nd in the Central, so home ice in the first round is still not out of the question, but first place would be a far reach at this point. Nashville and Anaheim clinched playoff spots over the weekend, the only West teams to do that so far. The Hawks trail Nashville by six points, though the Hawks do hold two games in hand, the first coming Monday night when they host LA at the UC.
Winnipeg controlled the game for the initial 15 minutes or so of the night.
Late in the first, Byfuglien gave the Hawks the first of 3 power plays on the night with 2:19 to go. Inside the Jets’ end, Byfuglien allowed Shaw to a puck first along the half wall so the ex-Blackhawk could line Andrew Shaw up for a hit along the boards. As Byfuglien converged, Shaw turned his back and Byfuglien hit Shaw from behind square between the numbers. Byfuglien was assessed 2 minutes for elbowing.
Moments later, Shaw made Byfuglien regret that late first period penalty. Shaw’s 14th goal of the season came after Duncan Keith made a desperation dive at the blue line to keep a no-look Toews’ backhand feed inside the zone. Keith dished across to Saad, who stepped into the left circle and released a shot that hit Shaw, standing in front of the net, in the stomach. The puck dropped in front of Shaw, who turned and shot it by the left leg of Pavelec and into the back of the net at 18:30 of the opening frame. Saad and Keith collected the helpers, their 26th and 35th respectively.
With 28 seconds to go in the period, Byfuglien again lined up a Hawk, this time it was Teuvo Teravainen, who ate a big check from Byfuglien at the Jets’ blue line. Teuvo saw it coming, slipped the puck by Byfuglien and into Winnipeg’s zone but the Hawks lost possession anyway.
A minute into the second period, Mark Stuart, a defenseman on the Jets, was battling for a puck behind deep in the home team’s zone. Sharp muscled Stuart to the ice. On his knees, Stuart tried to glove the puck around the boards and out of harm’s way, but the referee whistled him for a Closing hand on the puck minor. The Hawks power play didn’t generate much on its second opportunity of the night and once over, Niklas Hjalmarsson put the Hawks down a man when he aggressively checked Mark Scheifele off a puck deep in the Hawks’ end. The check was hard and Hjalmarsson landed the hit square into Scheifele’s chest, but the referees ruled he got his elbow too high on the hit.
Dustin Byfuglien made up for the late first period infraction that helped give the Hawks the lead by cashing in on the Jets first of four power plays. Byfuglien knocked a puck down that Johnny Oduya attempted to bat out of the zone using his gloved hand. Byfuglien shot the bouncing puck from the slot. Oduya had gone back to the front of the net and the shot hit the blade of his stick. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the puck popped high into the air and no one could locate the puck as it drifted over Crawford and into the back of the net to tie the game 1-1 at 4:34 of the second.
Chicago was back on the power play three minutes later when a bad change resulted in a 3-on-2 short-handed rush and goal for the Jets.
The Blackhawks forwards, Toews, Hossa and Shaw, were going off on a change as Winnipeg gained possession and transitioned to offense. Shaw was the closest forward to the play, but he let him man, Tyler Myers, go and join Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler to create the 3-on-2 against Duncan Keith and forward, Brandon Saad. The Jets traded the puck before Wheeler stickhandled Crawford down and out and deposited the shorty at 7:40 of the sandwich stanza.
Patrick Sharp nearly tied the game at the 11:00 mark of the second when Michal Rozsival fired a puck to Sharp at the far post. Rozsival’s feed hit Sharp’s stick low on the shaft and then off the post. A minute later Shaw and Bickell were set off on a 2 on 1 by a Brent Seabrook stretch pass but Adam Pardy hustled back and mugged Bickell to prevent a scoring chance.
Moments later, Toews had a breakaway from the Jets’ blue line. His shot was kicked out to the trailing Marian Hossa, who passed up a quick forehand chance to maneuver through traffic on his backhand. Hossa was poke-checked off the puck before he could release a backhand try.
The game was resembling a track meet at this point.
At 16:19 of the second, Brad Richards tied the game at 2-2 when he scored his 12th goal as a Blackhawk on a neat turning re-direct on a Johnny Oduya shot from the far left point. The play was setup by some nice board work by Antoine Vermette, who registered his 25th assist of the season on the play.
With 2:20 to go in the second, Marian Hossa hooked Tyler Myers skating through the neutral territory and put the Hawks down a man for the majority of the final ticks of the period.
Byfuglien, the goat in the box on the Hawks power play tally a period earlier, capitalized for his second power play goal of the game. The play broke down from a Hawks perspective as Crawford ate up a Drew Stafford shot but then lost control of the puck and let it back out into play. The puck eventually made it back to Byfuglien at the point, who utilized a Wheeler screen to beat Crawford and take a 3-2 lead into the second intermission. The goal, at 19:34 of the second, was assisted by Andrew Ladd and Stafford. Wheeler doesn’t get a point, though it was his screen that made the play.
After two period the Hawks were being outshot 21-15 and while the second was more evenly played than the first, Winnipeg outscored the Hawks 3-1 in the frame with the difference being a lucky bounce, terrible Shaw play allowing a short-handed goal against.
Richards was caught hooking Lee Stempniak (long-time Hawk killer, but not on this night) at 4:03 of the third. Byfuglien had a couple nice looks on the ensuing power play, but the game remained 3-2 Jets.
Shortly after the Jets’ man-advantage expired, Sharp was chasing for a loose puck in the neutral zone with Winnipeg defenseman Tobias Enstrom. As Enstrom closed in on the puck, he ran into linesman Don Henderson and lost his stick in the process. Sharp seized the opportunity, swooping in and taking off on a breakaway from the red line. Sharp deked Pavelec down and snapped a forehand shot by Pavelec’s glove as the goaltender was down and going for a pad stack position.
Sharp’s 14th goal at 6:27 of the third was unassisted and tied the game 3-3.
Oduya and Wheeler quickly traded chances at each other’s end with three minutes to go in regulation but the game remained tied.
Then in the game’s final minute, the Hawks established possession inside the Jets’ zone and worked the puck up and down the right wall. Hossa and Toews traded the puck on a cycle before Toews sent the puck back up to the right point to Hjalmarsson. Toews hustled into the slot as Hjalmarsson fired a snap shot toward the net. Toews got favorable body position on Tyler Myers and tipped the shot as it sailed through traffic. The puck altered from its originally intended direction and sailed over Pavelec’s right shoulder and into the top corner of the net with 31 seconds to play in regulation time. Hjalmarsson and Hossa got the assists, their 15th and 34th of the season.
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice then called a timeout to rest his best offensive players, but the Jets never entered the Hawks zone over the game’s final half minute.
The 4-3 Blackhawks victory represented an enormous four point swing in the Western Conference playoff race and the Hawks can breathe a little easier now that the Jets are 6 points behind them with 7 games to play and a game in hand on Winnipeg.
Chicago returns home to host the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night. The Kings were waiting for the Hawks in Chicago after a big loss at Minnesota on Saturday night. The Kings practiced at Johnny’s IceHouse, the Hawks’ off site practice facility, on Sunday.
–The decision to release Myers and change by Shaw on the Wheeler goal was inexcusable. But Shaw didn’t miss a shift. He was one of three forwards who changed, but Hossa was in the process of changing at the bench and Toews was further away from the play than Shaw. Terrible move by Shaw and he’s lucky they came back and won the game because that decision and failure to read the situation could have turned out to be a real killer and defining moment looking back had the Hawks lost this game.
–Kruger & Toews were both under 50% at the dot. Antoine Vermette, who was one of the better faceoff men in the game before he was acquired at the trade deadline, took one faceoff in the game. Shaw, who was back at center for most of this game, was 0-5. Only Richards (6-11) was over 50%. Unless there’s an injury, I’m confused as to what the logic would be to not utilize one of the very strengths Vermette was acquired for.
–Niklas Hjalmarsson has been the Hawks best defenseman for some time now, as in months and months.
–Joel Quenneville’s lines, pairs, scratches & specials on WrestleMania Sunday
23-Kris Versteeg / 19-Jonathan Toews / 81-Marian Hossa
80-Antoine Vermette / 91-Brad Richards / 10-Patrick Sharp
29-Bryan Bickell / 65-Andrew Shaw / 20-Brandon Saad
11-Andrew Desjardins / 16-Marcus Kruger / 86-Teuvo Teravainen
27-Johnny Oduya / 4-Niklas Hjalmarsson
2-Duncan Keith / 32-Michal Rozsival
44-Kimmo Timonen / 7-Brent Seabrook
33-Scott Darling (backup)
Scratches: D-5-David Rundblad.. D-47-Michael Paliotta… RW-39-Kyle Baun….
Injuries: LW-13-Dan Carcillo… LW-42-Joakim Nordstrom
Power play I: Hossa-Toews-Shaw w/ Saad & Keith
Power play II: Versteeg-Richards-Teravainen w/ Sharp & Seabrook
PK forwards: Kruger-Saad, Toews-Hossa, Versteeg
PK defense: Keith-Hjalmarsson, Oduya-Seabrook
–Winnipeg Jets on Sunday March 29, 2015 at MTS Centre in Manitoba
12-Drew Stafford / 55-Mark Scheifele / 26-Blake Wheeler
16-Andrew Ladd / 17-Adam Lowry / 67-Michael Frolik
91-Jiri Tlusty / 19-Jim Slater / 20-Lee Stempniak
15-Matt Halischuk / 85-Mathieu Perreault / 22-Chris Thorburn
39-Tobias Enstrom / 57-Tyler Myers
2-Adam Pardy / 33-Dustin Byfuglien
5-Mark Stuart / 8-Jacob Trouba
34-Michael Hutchinson (backup)
Power play I: Wheeler-Stafford-Ladd w/ Scheifele & Byfuglien
Power play II: Frolik-Perreault-Tlusty w/ Trouba & Myers (Enstrom)
PK forwards: Slater-Frolik, Ladd-Wheeler, Lowry, Stempniak
PK defense: Stuart-Trouba, Pardy-Myers, Enstrom