On Opening Night, the Blackhawks brought out some of their greatest players and then gave fans a thrilling victory after the longest shoot out in the history of the organization. The entire evening was filled with both the great history of the franchise and the immense pressure of the present.
Fast forward 48 hours to Monday night. Most history from the young Blackhawks at the expense of their fans’ blood pressure.
It took five shots on goal and less than five minutes for starting goalie Cristobal Huet to find himself a warm seat in the locker room. Huet allowed three of those first five shots to reach the net, despite coach Joel Quenneville using his timeout after two.
Quenneville saw enough, and made a change that a capacity crowd, of which I was a part, appreciated.
In both home games this year, Huet has received a noticeably mixed reaction in player introductions. After Monday night, the portion of that reaction that was once positive might be disappearing. In his post game press conference, Quenneville was open about there being continued dialogue around the situation in goal for the Blackhawks.
Huet has not been good enough this year.
But when Antti Niemi came in, he gave up two quick goals and suddenly an electric crowd was stunned by a five-goal deficit less than ten minutes into a big game against a conference opponent. From my seats, the reactions from the Flames players with each successive goal appeared to be as surprised as the fans; the fact that shots that didn’t even appear to be sincere were going in was making the visiting Flames laugh out loud.
At least the Flames were able to LOL for 20 minutes, because the Blackhawks officially put the Western Conference on notice Monday night with their play in the second and third periods.
No team is safe, no lead is safe, and no score is big enough against these Blackhawks.
John Madden, perhaps my favorite off season addition in the last decade for this team, scored a goal to draw the Hawks within a 5-1 score just before the end of the first period. Then an effort worthy of 20,000 paying fans began at the expense of Miikka Kiprusoff.
The Hawks began hitting, led by Andrew Ladd and Troy Brouwer. The team that started the game as soft as a marshmallow was now hitting hard enough that, at one point, a Flames player was hit through the glass, delaying the game.
The Hawks began skating. Patrick Kane has matured more than the threat of jail time would have inspired over the summer, and with him next to Dave Bolland the Hawks began sprinting circles around Calgary, with their snipers taking aim at the net as often as possible.
The Hawks began playing shut-down defense. The Flames finished the first period with five goals on 10 shots. They had six shots in the second period, and just four in the third. The physical play, coupled with an intense, attacking approach kept the Flames from even getting the puck to Niemi.
As the Blackhawks faught and clawed slowly back to a 5-4 score after two periods, the crowd was starting to appear as surprised as the Flames were to get five easy goals in the first period. There was a very real sense that a five goal hole wasn’t too big. And it wasn’t.
Once the third period began, the expectation from the stands and on the ice appeared to be that the Hawks were going to win the game. When Patrick Sharp tied the game on a fantastic re-direct, the roof nearly came down on the erupting crowd.
In a game against a playoff-caliber opponent, a playoff-caliber crowd backed the biggest comeback in the history of the Blackhawks Monday night. As Brent Seabrook picked up a wandering puck in front of the net, centered his legs, and unloaded the game-winning shot in overtime, I doubt there was a butt still attached to a seat. I know mine wasn’t.
The Blackhawks out-shot the Flames 40–20 in the game. Kane had three points (1 goal, 2 assists), Bolland, Brian Campbell and Ladd all had two, and Dustin Byfuglien, Duncan Keith, Madden and Cam Barker each had one. The goals were scored by Madden, Kane, Byfuglien, Bolland, Sharp and Seabrook.
Niemi got the win… now the discussion will become whether or not he should get the next start. That discussion is coming soon.
FUN FACT: Only one other team in the history of the NHL has come back from a five goal deficit, the St. Louis Blues, who were coached in that game by Joel Quenneville.