It took some catching up on Sunday night, but the Blackhawks scored a big victory both in the standing and their confidence against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.
The game was filled with ironies, the biggest of which was the scoring column. On Sunday night, the Blackhawks celebrated the career of Jeremy Roenick, one of the greatest goal scoring forwards in team history. And yet it was Brent Sopel who opened the scoring.
Brent Sopel? Really?
Yeah, that’s right, Sopel scored the first goal of the game for Chicago, his first goal since Halloween 1998. Sopel goal came early in a first period that saw a lot of back and forth action, good skating from both sides, a lot of physical play in the corners. and mediocre passing that led to a lot of turnovers in neutral ice.
Dany Heatley tied the game after a turnover deep in the Hawks’ zone, and the first period ended with a 1-1 score. The Hawks outshot San Jose 9-7 in the first period, numbers that are low for both teams. Evgeni Nabokov and Cristobal Huet both made a handful of nice saves in traffic early on, but the sloppy passing from both teams kept either team from having extended rushes at the net.
Just as the second period was beginning, Ben Eager decided to drop the gloves with Doug Murray. Murray didn’t look like he wanted to dance, but Eager put the music on and started swinging, so he obliged Eager with a decent round. Murray landed a couple blows before Eager ended the fight with a solid right hook. Both earned a five minute break for fighting, and the refs assessed Eager with a two minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct as well.
Less than 35 seconds into Jordan Hendry serving Eager’s two minutes, Jason Demers scored his first career NHL goal. Hendry left the box on one of the rare occasions the Hawks stellar power play defense allowed a goal this year, only to watch Patrick Marleau his 12th goal of the season only 45 second later.
Unlike many instances in the past when the Hawks have given up multiple goals in a short period of time, coach Joel Quenneville opted to let the team skate through the down swing in momentum rather than use his timeout.
On a night when the Hawks would celebrate scoring, they would now need to come up with some of their own, as the Sharks were up 3-1 less than two minutes into the second period.
That scoring would start almost six minutes after Marleau’s goal, as Jonathan Toews fought a puck out from behind the net and found Patrick Kane streaking for the net for a goal to stop the bleeding. From this point forward, the Hawks appeared to take a shooting approach the rest of the period. The approach paid off as John Madden followed a couple hard Andrew Ladd shots with a rebound putback to tie the game at three heading to the third period.
The Hawks outshot the Sharks 13-8 in the second period, and both teams took a few penalties in a period that saw significantly better passing than previously. The goal was Madden’s third already this year in what was by far his best game as a member of the Blackhawks; he won all nine of his faceoffsand was credited with a blocked shot and a hit as well.
The third period was more physical and tentative from both teams, as both goalies made good stops in traffic and the teams skated through a fairly uneventful 20 minutes to earn a point each in the standings.
As overtime began, the Hawks made a strong push at Nabokov. they were credited, officially, with only two shots but it seemed like there were at least four, the last of which found the back of the net off Brent Seabrook’s stick. It was Seabrook’s second goal of the season, and both have been clutch.
Seabrook’s first goal was the overtime game-winning shot that capped the incredible Hawks’ comeback win against Calgary early in October, when they trailed 5-0 in the first period. Sunday night was also an overtime game-winner, also capping a comeback against a good team.
For his efforts, which included two blocked shots, one hit and a plus-two rating, Seabrook was the Number One Star of the game. Niklas Hjalmarsson was the second star of the game, playing nearly 20 solid minutes on the blue line.
The ironies that the Hawks got three of their four goals, including the game-winner, came from players that rarely score on Jeremy Roenick Heritage Night seemed fitting on a team as deep as these Hawks are on a night that celebrated one of the great offensive players in the team’s history.
It was also perfectly fitting that it was Seabrook, wearing Number Seven on his jersey, that would score the game-winner. In the middle of the third period, the jumbo screen in the United Center showed the alumni box where Roenick was seated. Next to Roenick, leaning out of the picture until JR pulled him in and the camera panned out to include him, was Chris Chelios. Chelios was the captain on many of the great teams Roenick led in scoring in the early 1990s, and also famously wore Number Seven for the Blackhawks.
The shot of Roenick and Chelios brought the crowd to its feet for an ovation worthy of a game-winning goal, as the hard work and quality play both of those great icons of the franchise put forth in the 1990s was finally appreciated in one moment. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the United Center crowd that had goosebumps during that ovation.
Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ebbett were both scratched from the game, and the Hawks recalled Brian Bickell late Sunday afternoon to play in Versteeg’s place. Quenneville mentioned that Versteegwas dealing with an “upper body injury” after Friday night’s game against Toronto, in which he took a couple hard hits from behind late.
The Hawks won’t play at the United Center again until December 1st, as the circus will take over the United Center for the next two weeks.