The Calgary Flames came into the United Center playing pretty well.
The Blackhawks entered Sunday night’s game playing like absolutely dog shit.
So of course it would be a competitive, tight game. Indeed, it was the most watchable game the Hawks have played in some time.
In a stunning departure from a recent trend, the Blackhawks didn’t allow an early goal. Or multiple early goals.
Chris Kunitz dressed. He took a minor penalty on his first shift of the game, but the Blackhawks successfully killed the penalty.
It took almost nine minutes for the Hawks to register a shot on net, but they didn’t allow a goal until Sean Monahan scored 10:07 into the game.
Rather than dig themselves into a multi-goal hole early, the Hawks opted to tie the game up quickly on Sunday. Jonathan Toews scored to tie the game less than 90 seconds after the Monahan goal.
The captain’s 12th of the year was unassisted and showed that the Blackhawks might have come to play. Calgary dominated the rest of the period, though, out-shooting Chicago 18-6 in the opening 20 minutes.
Yet the game remained tied at one.
The Blackhawks were hanging around and competing until Kunitz handed momentum – and, ultimately, the game – to the Flames. At 7:08 into the second period, Kunitz hit Travis Hamonic high with a dirty elbow. He received an elbowing major penalty and was sent packing after skating only 4:01 in the game.
When Stan Bowman won the highly-competitive bidding war that included only the Blackhawks this summer for the services of the washed-up Kunitz I’m sure Chicago’s general manager envisioned nights like Sunday, when the veteran would have a 17-4 penalty minutes to ice time ratio.
Sunday night should be the last time Kunitz wears the Indian head. He’s no longer a viable player in the NHL and his cheap shot against Calgary cost the Blackhawks dearly.
The Flames scored twice during the five-minute major (served by Dylan Strome). Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan gave Calgary a two-goal lead that would prove to be enough.
Later in the second period things got chippy again. James Neal, noted dirtbag in his own right, tried to avoid running into Corey Crawford. But after hanging onto the crossbar for a moment he still wound up landing on Crawford, which led to Jan Rutta cross-checking Neal. In the scrum in front of Chicago’s net that followed, Rasmus Andersson took a couple whacks at Patrick Kane. Who didn’t like that? Crawford, who appeared ready to do the dance.
Crawford looked frisky enough that Calgary goaltender Mike Smith slowly drifted toward the center of the rink… just in case.
There was no fight, though. Neal received the only penalty from the action.
With Neal in the box, Chicago made them pay. During a line change, Crawford got the puck up to Alex DeBrincat who served one up for Strome, who took care of business.
Strome’s goal cut the lead to one and the Hawks appeared to have some emotion.
But that was the final goal of the game.
Neither side got anything past the other goaltender in the third period, a credit to the netminders. Both Crawford and Smith had a terrific night and were strong in the third period. Smith made one save with what appeared to be the back of his foot at one point to take away a wide open cage and a would-be game-tying goal.
After failing to put a shot on net on Saturday night, Kane was credited with four shots on Sunday. Toews had a much better night, scoring the Hawks’ first goal and won 16 of 27 faceoffs.
John Hayden and Andreas Martinsen were scratched for Alexandre Fortin and Kunitz. Fortin skated ten minutes in the game but wasn’t very noticeable. Brendan Perlini was limited to just over six minutes in the game.
The Blackhawks have three wins since the beginning of November.