The Blackhawks had five days to get ready for the New York Islanders.
Erik Gustafsson had waited almost two years for the chance to get back into meaningful NHL action, having been banished to Rockford since Game 7 against the Blues in 2016.
And early, it looked like Gustafsson and the Hawks were ready to come out of the break with an improved effort. Gustafsson set up Patrick Kane only 61 seconds into the game and Chicago had an early lead.
Unfortunately, the 18:59 that followed resembled the dumpster fire fans watched on Sunday against Detroit.
Anthony Beauvillier tied the game while Jonathan Toews sat in the penalty box at 4:35. Chicago would be short-handed two more times in the opening period and survived the one full penalty in the first… but the Islanders would score two more times at even strength.
Jordan Eberle and Ryan Pulock beat Anton Forsberg and the Islanders up 3-1 in a period they dominated after the opening couple shifts. New York out-shot the Hawks 19-13 in the opening 20 minutes and all three of the penalties the Hawks took were brutal.
The third penalty the Hawks took in the first, by Tommy Wingels, carried over into the second period and Beauvillier was able to score his second of the night while on the advantage. The Beauvillier goal extended the lead to 4-1 and the boo birds were rightfully out in force at the United Center.
At 18:27 into the second, Kane returned the favor and set up Gustafsson for a terrific shot. Gustafsson’s goal cut the lead to 4-2 and gave Chicago a little momentum in the closing minutes of the second.
However, the shot totals once again favored the visitors. New York out-shot Chicago 14-8 in the second period.
When Brock Nelson scored 1:52 into the second period coach Joel Quenneville decided to put a bandaid on a bullet hole and made a change in net, bringing Jeff Glass off the bench in relief. Forsberg wasn’t good; he left far too many rebounds and played the fifth goal of the night terribly. But waiting to make the change until after the fifth goal wasn’t doing anything.
To his credit, Kane didn’t go away. at 4:58 into the third he scored from a bad angle for his third point of the night – and the 800th regular season point of his career.
To their credit, the Islanders didn’t care for a second that Kane became the fifth player in organization history to reach 800 points. Anders Lee and John Tavares scored within six minutes of Kane’s goal to make the score 7-3 in favor of the Islanders and seats were noticeably empty at the United Center with half of the third period remaining.
Ryan Hartman fought Ross Johnston at 10:38 in a classic “too little too late” moment of attempted momentum generating effort. Good for Hartman. He got the rest of the night off with the five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
The final nine minutes rolled off the clock without anything significant taking place beyond fans walking out of the United Center early.
Gustafsson had a decent night in his return to the NHL lineup. He had one goal, one assist, put four shots on net, blocked three and picked up two hits in 20 minutes of action. He took the place of Connor Murphy, who got to sit in the press box.
The rest of the Hawks blue line had a brutal night. Jordan Oesterle led the Hawks with six shots on net but did not have a good night. Duncan Keith had a rough night and took a bad penalty in the second period. Jan Rutta had an especially tough night, posting a well-deserved minus-four. His partner, Gustav Forsling, was minus-three.
Also minus-three on the night: David Kampf, Vinnie Hinostroza and Alex DeBrincat.
Chicago rallied to put 18 shots on Jaroslav Halak in the third period to cut the overall game total to 46-39 in favor of the Islanders. Forsberg stopped 30 of 35 in 41:52 and Glass made nine saves against 11 shots in the final 18:08.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Blackhawks with Tampa coming to town on Monday night.