Another mediocre performance for 45 minutes appeared to have the Blackhawks leaving crucial points on the table in Winnipeg on Sunday night. But a furious third period rally, capped by a game-winning goal from captain Jonathan Toews, left the Jets looking for answers and the Hawks victorious.
After a punishing hit (and “gentlemanly” facewash) from Dustin Byfuglien on Andrew Shaw gave the Blackhawks a power play in the first, Shaw scored 14th of the season with 90 seconds on the clock. The Hawks were out-skated for most of the first period, but somehow emerged with a 7-6 shot advantage and 1-0 lead on the scoreboard after 20 minutes.
The avalanche on special teams came to a head in the second period, as Byfuglien dominated the frame. Byfuglien scored two power play goals in the period, and Blake Wheeler pitched in a short-handed tally, to give the Jets a lead after 40 minutes. If not for a redirected goal from Brad Richards, the Hawks would have been chasing two goals and the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Central.
Winnipeg out-shot the Hawks 15-8 in the second period and their passing, unlike the Hawks, was on point. They play that concluded with Wheeler’s goal was something Chicago fans have longed to see from the Hawks for weeks; a 3-on-2 break with precision passing. Corey Crawford made a decent play on the puck, but Wheeler was able to convert for his 25th of the season.
The Hawks were out-shot again in the third period, this time with Winnipeg holding a 13-8 advantage. And the only two penalties of the final 20 minutes left Chicago short-handed. But two very good penalty kills – especially in light of the dumpster fire that the Blackhawks special teams were in the second period – kept the Hawks in the game.
Patrick Sharp converted a breakaway with some help from an official to tie the game at 6:27, a play that had most Hawks fans considering the potential that Bigfoot or mermaids could in fact be real. Sharp’s 14th of the season came unassisted and was a vintage snipe, something that has been missing for months. It is Sharp’s fourth goal in March, and he now has eight points in his last eight games.
After killing a Michal Rozsival penalty inside the final four minutes of the game, the Hawks went on the attack. A Niklas Hjalmarsson shot was redirected by Toews into the Jets net and, with 30 seconds remaining on the clock, a stunned Jets team looked up to a scoreboard that showed the Blackhawks leading.
Crawford kept the Hawks in the game in the third period, making 31 saves in the victory.
When the Blackhawks acquired Antoine Vermette at the deadline, many envisioned him as a strong center to compliment Toews and Richards. But over the last six periods, a struggling Vermette has spent most of his time as a wing; there were 56 faceoffs on Sunday night, and Vermette took part in only one. Shaw, meanwhile, lost all five of his faceoffs with his first period goal.
Bryan Bickell rebounded from an empty box score to appear on the ice on Sunday evening. Though he bounced off Byfuglien a couple times, Bickell did lead the Hawks with four hits in the game and was also credited with one blocked shot and a blocked shot. Bickell skated only 11:08, however; only Andrew Desjardins (10:54) saw less time on the ice than Bickell.