When many Blackhawks fans bought tickets to Friday night’s premiere of the Vegas Golden Knights at the United Center, undoubtedly the thought process was “we’ll see a first place team against one that’s struggling/in last place.” Not many expected that to be true – with the Hawks playing the role of the last place team.
Vegas came into Chicago after losing in St. Louis on Thursday. The Blackhawks hadn’t played on home ice in 18 days. Malcolm Subban got the call between the pipes for the visitors and Jeff Glass was back in the blue paint for Chicago. The only real lineup surprise from either side was a late scratch of Ryan Hartman; Richard Panik took his place even though Hartman took part in the morning skate.
Anyone hoping for the Knights to come in tired haven’t watched them play much this year. They blitzed the Blackhawks and absolutely dominated the first 18 minutes of the game. Alex Tuch gave Vegas a 1-0 lead at 4:44 and Jonathan Marchessault extended the lead to two 11 minutes later. Everything was pointing to a potential blowout loss for the Hawks.
But over the final couple minutes of the first the Blackhawks found their legs and started to generate some pressure. And at 18:01 Vinnie Hinostroza started what would be a big offensive night with his third goal of the season.
Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews picked up the assists on their linemate’s goal, and the Hawks had a little momentum going into the second period.
Vegas held a 21-10 shot advantage after 20 minutes. If not for Glass playing another strong period, the Hawks could have easily been chasing two or three more.
William Karlsson, who has been one of the stars of the first half of the NHL season, scored his 21st of the season at 5:54 into the second to push the Vegas lead back to two. But in the middle of the second period the Hawks put some tremendous pressure on Subban.
After a few terrific shifts in a row, Patrick Sharp scored for the second straight game to cut the lead back to one.
Panik picked up an assist on the Sharp goal, his first point in what feels like a couple years.
It took more than 11 minutes for either team to get on the board again but it was once again Hinostroza creating. This time, Nick Schmaltz was the recipient of a perfect saucer pass and he took care of the business end to tie the game.
Schmaltz’s ninth of the season gave Hinostroza and Saad two-point nights each.
Vegas outshot the Hawks 14-13 in the second period; Glass stopped 32 of 35 in 40 minutes.
The Blackhawks felt pretty good after Schmaltz’s goal in the final minute of the second and came out firing to start the third. Toews scored his 12th of the year 30 seconds into the third to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 lead.
Hinostroza picked up his second assist and third point of the night on the Toews’ goal.
Vegas isn’t leading the Western Conference for nothing, and they came back strong after the Toews’ goal. Cody Eakin tied the game at four five minutes later and Reilly Smith gave the lead back to Vegas at 13:53 into the third.
Glass went to the bench for the extra attacker with 1:54 left in the third period as the Hawks desperately tried to tie the game. Vegas’ defense kept the puck outside of the circles for most of the final couple minutes and the Blackhawks saw another comeback wasted in a regulation loss.
Toews had another strong night, winning 13 of 17 faceoffs with his two points and four shots on net. Saad had two assists and Hinostroza led Chicago with three points.
Panik played the game he needs to if he wants to stick in the lineup. He led the Hawks with six hits, blocked one shot and got himself to the front of the net consistently.
Gustav Forsling led the Blackhawks with five shots on net. Jordan Oesterle led Chicago with two blocked shots.
Glass did his best to hold the fort but the shots – and quality chances – were simply too many. He made 38 saves in the loss, his first appearance on United Center ice.