Hawks Take Vancouver for Granted, Lose Players and Game

Antti Niemi did all he could on Wednesday, stopping 28 of 31 shots.
Antti Niemi did all he could on Wednesday, stopping 28 of 31 shots.

On Wednesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks faced a banged up Vancouver Canucks team that was struggling. The Hawks were coming off a rough loss to Dallas in which goalie Cristobal Huet looked bad, and were hoping to bounce back with a strong showing against a conference opponent.

The Hawks not only lost the game, but might have some injury issues to deal with moving forward.

Chicago has statistically dominated their opponents this season, and began Wednesday’s game no differently. They allowed only four shots on goal in the first period, and Duncan Keith scored for the third time this year to give the Hawks a lead after a period they owned.

But the Canucks came out and ran all over the Blackhawks in the final two periods. The Hawks were outshot 30-21, nearly the inverse of their usual shooting differential. They appeared to put the offense in neutral after on period, and paid for it.

The Blackhawks might have out hit the Canucks 32-19, but the biggest hit of the night was put on Chicago captain Jonathan Toews by Willie Mitchell, and knocked Toews noticeably off his rocker. He would not return to the ice after the hit, which was early in the third period.

Kris Versteeg would drop the gloves with Mitchell to get his captain’s back, but Toews was already lost for the night.

Brent Seabrook also took a shot in the middle of the third period, and was limited in his return. Thought he did get back on the ice, it was in short bursts and Brian Campbell took his place opposite Keith for most of the third period.

After the game, coach Joel Quenneville said that both Toews and Seabrook had sustained “upper body injuries” and would be re-evaluated between now and Saturday, when the Hawks host Nashville. Losing either player would be a considerable loss for the Hawks.

On the brighter side, goalie Antti Niemi was spectacular for most of the night. He stopped 28 of 31 shots, the most shots put on goal by any Blackhawks opponent all year, and made many tough saves in traffic. Despite taking the loss, his stock went up with the fans at the United Center. I was one of the over-20,000 fans who openly appreciated Niemi’s great effort to keep an underwhelming Hawks team in the game.

The game winning goal, scored by Mikael Samuelsson, was brought on by sloppy play in front of Niemi. Campbell got a takeaway in front of the net and advanced up the right side boards, and tried to make a pretty drop-off pass to Patrick Kane. Kane didn’t handle the puck, and Samuelsson was waiting to take advantage.

Campbell further compounded his sloppy passing by spinning 360 degrees the opposite direction from the shooting Samuelsson, allowing the Canuck to get a clear, hard slap shot off and past Niemi.

Keith and Troy Brouwer scored the two Blackhawks goals. Kane, Keith, John Madden and Cam Barker collected assists.

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