Need something to worry about?
The Blackhawks hosted the league-leading Washington Capitals on Sunday just 20 hours after a devastating loss in Philadelphia. How the team responded to the loss on the ice in such a short turnaround could have been a strong indication of how the final three weeks of the season could turn out.
Then the Hawks threw everyone a curveball: both Kim Johnsson and Marian Hossa were scratches on Sunday with upper body injuries. Johnsson didn’t play in the last 13 minutes on Saturday, but Hossa was on the ice in the final four seconds when the game was lost. Their status moving forward has been labeled day-to-day, but both will make the trip with the team this week.
Then Alexander Ovechkin threw Brian Campbell into the boards, a “tough hit… a dangerous hit” as coach Joel Quenneville. Ovechkin received a five minute boarding penalty and a game misconduct for the play, which drew the fire out of Mike Milbury on NBC between periods. Milbury, of course, needs to publicly defend Ovechkin after calling the Russians “Euro trash” during the Olympics. How he’s still on the air is beyond me. Ovechkin was taken out of the equation, but that doesn’t mean the Capitals had no offense left on the ice.
However, losing Campbell was a worst-case scenario for the Hawks. With Johnsson already out after suffering an injury in the third period of Saturday’s game and Brent Sopel still working his way back from injury, the Hawks defense was already thin. Forcing Jordan Hendry and Sopel to play more minutes (Hendry played over 16, Sopel over 18 on Sunday), coupled with Brent Seabrook’s two-month funk, against the highest-scoring team in the league was a recipe for disaster.
Disaster came in the third period.
Hendry took a double-minor for high-sticking Alexander Semin, and near the mid-point of that penalty Colin Fraser drew a penalty for high-sticking Brooks Laich. With the Fraser penalty delayed, Laich scored the first tally for Washington on the afternoon. Because there were 22 second left on the first minor penalty to Hendry, the Blackhawks were then forced to kill a full two minutes of five-on-three against the Capitals in the mid-third.
The Hawks did indeed kill the penalty, but consider how they accomplished that feat. With Hendry in the box and Campbell out, the Hawks had four defensemen to skate for two minutes against an active, powerful offense. They killed the five-on-three, but allowed the second goal of the game to Nicklas Backstrom just three seconds after the penalties were over.
Momentum was gone, and confidence was questionable. The lead was only one.
That lead lasted only 13 seconds.
With dead legs and frustrated brains, the Blackhawks had watched a big lead disappear in the third period again, this time in front of the home crowd. The Hawks have not only lost three of their last four games, but they’ve been shell-shocked by a five-goal period from Detroit, Philadelphia’s winner in the final two seconds and now Washington’s comeback.
Stat of the game: the Chicago Blackhawks were credited with ONE shot on goal in the third period. One.
What’s worse, the Hawks’ dressing room has been described as silent, dead and questioning after Sunday’s loss.
Duncan Keith said, “I don’t know how we will regroup.”
Overall, Sunday’s loss cannot, and should not, be blamed on Antti Niemi. He stopped 26 of 29 shots during regulation, making a number of critical saves. Just as Cristobal Huet was on Saturday, Niemi was the victim of the players in front of him taking a few minutes off. The five-on-three with only four available defensemen was too much for the Hawks to handle, and the subsequent two goals in 15 seconds killed the lead. Of the 60 minutes in regulation on Sunday, the Hawks played their hearts out for almost all of them.
Bad penalties with worse timing, coupled with an unexpectedly limited bench against the top scoring team in the league cost the Blackhawks. The moral victory on from Sunday’s loss is the one point from drawing overtime, but moral victories don’t mean much at this time of year.
When there is more information on the extent of Campbell’s injury, and the status of both Hossa and Johnsson moving forward, we’ll update their situations.
On offense for the Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews scored two goals and Patrick Kane had two assists.
The Blackhawks next three games are on the road, with the first coming on Wednesday in Anaheim.