Blackhawks Leave Jackets Blue as Quenneville Reaches Milestone

The first of Kris Versteeg's two toe-drags on his gorgeous short handed goal Tuesday.

The first of Kris Versteeg's two toe-drags on his gorgeous short-handed goal Tuesday.

How many firsts were there on Tuesday night?

Tuesday was December 1st. The Blackhawks played at home for the first time in two weeks. It was the first game between the Blackhawks and division rival, and second place, Columbus. Marian Hossa was playing in his first home game as a member of the Hawks. It was the first time the Hawks wore their new third jerseys. And it was the first time a Blackhawks’ team had a shootout reach double-digit shots.

All of that to get Coach Joel Quenneville his 500th career win as an NHL coach.

Welcome home indeed!

The Blackhawks admittedly didn’t have their legs in the first period as they were outshot by the Blue Jackets 10-5, but held the advantage on the scoreboard after an incredible short handed goal from Kris Versteeg. Versteeg got the puck on a break up the right side, used a ridiculous toe-drag to beat an initial defender, then used another sick toe-drag to elude a second defender before depositing the puck over Steve Mason’s shoulder to give the Hawks the 1-0 lead.

Despite the score, the Hawks didn’t have much momentum heading to the first break. On the radio broadcast, Patrick Kane told the Chicago broadcast team that the Hawks were struggling to get the flow of their offense down after being gone for two weeks on the West Coast. The Blackhawks made a number of mistakes, including two questionable penalties and numerous turnovers in the Hawks’ zone that their stellar defense effectively mitigated.

The second period started with more back and forth action, and just over eight minutes in the Jackets tied the game with Antoine Vermette putting back a sloppy rebound off Cristobal Huet. Then, six minutes later, former-Blackhawks center Sami Pahlsson got another puck past Huet to give Columbus the lead. The Hawks were still searching for their groove.

But the second penalty of the period on Anton Stralman opened the door for the Hawks to put together an offensive rush, and they capitalized. With a lot of traffic in front of the net, Kane threw the puck to Hossa in front of the net. Hossa nicely tipped Kane’s pass through the traffic to a wide-open Patrick Sharp on the backside of the play and he tied the game again.

Once Sharp tied the game, the Hawks became noticeably more physical. Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer and Niklas Hjalmarsson worked the corners hard and, more times than not, left their opponent without the puck and off their feet. The Hawks controlled the final three minutes of the second period, and the game headed to the third period even in almost every way; not only was the score tied, but the Hawks had taken just one shot more than the Jackets and the two teams were nearly even in every other statistical category.

Columbus came out strong in the third, and took the lead only 40 seconds into the period on a long shot from Kris Russell.

However, the Hawks continued to press the offensive zone and drew more penalties. Only 17 seconds after Fedor Tyutin was called for high sticking, Jonathan Toews tied the game at three. The Blackhawks power play offense, which had been a concern for much of October, has continued to improve since Toews’ return.

The other side of the special teams, the penalty kill, also continues to be exceptional for Chicago. The Hawks entered Tuesday with the second-ranked PK unit in the NHL, but were facing the top converting power play in the NHL in Columbus. Through three periods and overtime, the Hawks defense was again superior as they killed all three penalties the Jackets drew.

Why, after being gone for two weeks, would the Hawks cheat their fans by playing only 60 minutes of hockey? Let’s play five extra minutes.

Neither team was able to score in the overtime session, though, so the Blackhawks treated their great fans to a shootout.

In the second round of the shootout, Hossa put the puck into the net to start the dance for the Hawks. But Jakub Voracek answered to start the third round, and when Kane couldn’t end it, the game continued for extra shots.

Sharp, Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky, Byfuglien and John Madden all tried their best but couldn’t beat Mason, who had struggled in shootouts before Tuesday. It wasn’t until the 11th round, when Quenneville finally called on a defenseman that the game ended. Brent Seabrook, who already has two overtime game winners this year, got the puck past Mason to end the longest shootout in franchise history.

Huet stopped 20 of 23 shots, but made great saves on the best moves from Columbus. On more than one occasion, Rick Nash made stunning moves in traffic and got the puck to Huet, but the Hawks’ goaltender was up to the task every time. He was also stellar in the shootout, in which he was aggressive playing the puck and made saves in nearly every direction.

Hossa had two assists in his first game in Chicago, giving him four points in four games with the Hawks. Duncan Keith had his 14th assist on the season on a shot that has, for now, been credited as a goal to Toews. Whether or not Toews made contact with the puck could be reviewed.

And so, after a night filled with firsts, Quenneville finally reached his 500th career win in his third try.

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