With Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman in attendance, as part of his duties as both the head of Canada’s Olympic Hockey program and a scout for the Detroit Red Wings, the Blackhawks battled for three physical periods against a Boston team that was every bit their equal. When the dust had settled, a game that was described by some as a potential preview to the Stanley Cup Finals lived up to the hype on Friday night as the Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins in a shootout.
Leading 1-0 early in the second period, the Bruins kicked the puck away from the right side boards out in front of the net where Kris Versteeg had an easy one-on-one with goalie Tim Thomas that he put home. The goal was unassisted… by a Blackhawks player.
It was Versteeg’s 10th goal of the season.
Yzerman was specifically watching captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and he wasn’t disappointed. Keith and Seabrook both had an assist when Sharp scored a goal that put the Hawks ahead 2-1 in the second period, putting back a long rebound off a Seabrook blast. Seabrook led the team with five hits as the duo played big minutes, as they always do, anchoring the blue line for Joel Quenneville.
The goal was Sharp’s 10th of the season.
Boston tied the game on a Daniel Paille goal eight minutes after Sharp put the Hawks ahead, but Boston’s lead didn’t last long. With less than 30 seconds left in the second period, Jonathan Toews won a battle for the puck in traffic right in front of Thomas and put it into the back of the net.
It was, oddly enough, Toews’ 10th goal of the season as well.
The third period followed the flow of action from the second, with the Bruins tying the game at three on Johnny Boychuk’s goal six minutes into the frame. However, less than two minutes later, Andrew Ladd got a piece of a Brian Campbell missile and put the puck past Thomas to give the Blackhawks the 4-3 lead. It was Ladd’s fifth goal of the season; there weren’t any more Hawks with nine that could have scored? Really?
This lead last ten minutes until David Krejci scored his second goal of the game. Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi were both credited with two assists on the night for Boston, while Paille had a goal and an assist. None of these Bruins scored in the final two minutes of regulation or the overtime period, but none of the Hawks could either and the game went to the shootout.
Despite allowing four goals and blowing the Hawks’ stretch of over 150 minutes without allowing a goal, Antti Niemi was stellar in the shootout. Bergeron and Blake Wheeler were no match for Niemi in Boston’s two shots, and that’s all the Hawks needed. Toews started the shootout with a great puck handling display, and then Patrick Kane embarrassed Thomas by teasing him onto his heels until the Bruins’ netminder essentially skated backwards into the net with the game winning goal sliding between his legs.
After the game, Boston coach Claude Julien said “You need a perfect game to beat the Blackhawks.” This high praise came from a coach who’s team played a great game in front of the largest United Center crowd of the season and certainly earned the respect of the Blackhawks’ fans.
Also earning a great deal of respect on Friday night was Jordan Hendry. The little used defenseman, who has dressed as a forward in the last two games in which he’s played, was pressed into action because Niklas Hjalmarsson was sick. Quenneville kept Brent Sopel and Cam Barker together and put Hendry with Campbell, and Hendry responded with a solid effort. Hendry had only played more than eight minutes once since Oct. 26, but stepped up and played 21:42 on Friday night. He was credited with an assist and was +1 on the night.
Another roster move of note, it was Ben Eager and not Tomas Kopecky that was replaced by Bryan Bickell on Friday night. The scratch of Eager was announced as the Hawks took the ice for warmups just before the game, and no health-related issues were cited. Kopecky, who had been scratched once already this week in favor of Hendry, had the least amount of ice time (6:48) of any Hawks’ player on Friday night.