Apparently all I had to do was tease the marketing department to get the Hawks offense to wake up. That, or another incredible start from Antti Niemi.
After a stretch of games in which the Hawks struggled to get their offense moving, they dominated every inch of the ice in a strong 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night. The game wasn’t without some concern, though.
Patrick Kane got the Blackhawks on the board just under eight minutes into the game with a pretty goal, but was sent head-first into the boards by Matt Smaby five minutes later. Kane was not able to brace himself before sliding into the wall on his chest, and the trainers were tending to his face on the ice before escorting him to the dressing room.
The team formally announced at the beginning of the third period that Kane had sustained an “upper body injury” and would not return to the game. In his post game comments, however, Coach Joel Quenneville said Kane had a “pretty good” cut above his eye that needed to be addressed; Quenneville believes the injury will only be a short-term issue. Quenneville said his best guess was that Kane would be available for Wednesday night in St. Louis, but that the decision would be made after Tuesday’s practice.
Smaby was an issue all night. With less than a minute remaining in the second period, and the Blackhawks now leading 3-0, Smaby blind-sided Jonathan Toews after he put a shot on net. The hit knocked Toews’ helmet off and sent him flying, coming down in a way that was dangerously close to hitting his exposed head on the ice. Toews got up from the hit and went after Mattias Ohlund, thinking that it was Ohlund that had him him. The captain would take a rare roughing penalty for throwing a couple shots at Ohlund.
It appeared the Lightning’s game plan was to be physical all night, and they did all they could to take the Blackhawks out of their game. That plan failed.
The second period added Marian Hossa to the list of great plays made by Blackhawks in the last week.
First, just over ten minutes into the second, Hossa outskated a couple Lightning players into the corner, where he flipped the puck through traffic across the offensive zone to a wide open Ben Eager, who put the puck into the net for the Hawks second goal of the night. It was Eager’s second goal of the year. Eager would end up just an assist short of the Gordie Howe Hat Trick, after taking a five minute roughing penalty for beating Zenon Konopka’s tail. Eager played a solid game.
Then, with 15 seconds left in the period, Hossa made a superstar play.
Patrick Sharp threw the puck at the net and it popped up into the air. Hossa, streaking towards the left side of the net, caught the puck out of the air and, in one motion, dropped the puck and hit it into the net before it touched the ice. It was like a Little Leaguer without a pitcher, just dropping the puck and hitting it in mid air. Except this was a puck, in traffic, on ice, and it ended up in the back of the net for the Hawks’ third goal. Truly a remarkable play. For video of the Hossa play, check here.
In the third period, the Hawks finished the game strong with a great put back goal from Toews off a blast from Dustin Byfuglien. Toews would also get a big hit on Smaby in the corner later, after which Smaby would take a shot at him with his stick and draw another penalty. In the third period, the Lightning drew 20 penalty minutes.
While the offense was reminding fans what scoring looked like, Niemi quietly had another strong effort between the pipes. In just his eighth start of the season, this was already his third shut out. He stopped all 18 Tampa shots on the night and earned a well-deserved standing ovation on a number of occasions from the United Center faithful.
As Dustin Byfuglien put it after the game: “Just another game: Niemi gets a shutout, Hossa gets a goal.”
It certainly appeared that Quenneville’s changes to the lines worked out well, but Kane only playing five minutes made it hard to tell how the complete dynamic was working. The line of Byfuglien, John Madden and Kris Versteeg played well, and the like of Hossa, Sharp and Andrew Ladd appeared to work well together as well. Once Kane went down, his spot next to Toews and Troy Brouwer was filled by a number of wings, including Eager. Madden won 10 of 13 faceoffs to help the cause on Sunday night.
The win Sunday night was great to get the Blackhawks’ offense back on track before a tough stretch of games starting Friday against the Boston Bruins. The Hawks play Detroit and Nashville twice, and San Jose once, in the ten days following Friday, a stretch that will test the Blackhawks. If they play as well as they did on Sunday, it could continue to show the rest of the league that the Hawks mean business.