The Chicago Blackhawks played their first game of the calendar year at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, and they were in last place in the division before the puck dropped.
We’ll say it again: the Blackhawks were in last place in the Central Division entering play on Wednesday.
They didn’t have Artem Anisimov or Corey Crawford and were facing a Rangers team that had won two of their previous three games.
So of course the final score wouldn’t reflect the game itself.
Chicago came out shooting and took a 1-0 lead when Vinnie Hinostroza – skating on a line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad – scored his second of the season.
Toews and Jordan Oesterle picked up assists on the Hinostroza goal, which game at 16:09 into the first. The assist was nice early redemption for Toews who had already spent four minutes in the penalty box in the first period when Hinostroza scored.
Chicago held the lead for exactly two minutes until Nick Holden tied the game. The first period would come to a close with the Hawks holding a 14-6 shot advantage but the scoreboard was even at one.
A crazy play almost nine minutes into the second period resulted in Nick Schmaltz being credited with his eighth of the season.
Here’s the NHL’s explanation of why the goal was good:
The Hawks were short-handed three times in the second period. Brent Seabrook spent a couple minutes alone early in the period and the Hawks successfully killed off the penalty. Jeff Glass, making his third straight start, cleared a puck directly into the stands and was caught for delay of game. New York wouldn’t waste this opportunity; Mika Zibanejad tied the game at two only 18 seconds into the Glass minor.
Chicago’s third penalty, Lance Bouma was called for tripping, was also successfully killed; the penalty carried over for 38 seconds to start the third period.
Even with six short-handed minutes in the second, Chicago had a 12-8 shot advantage. But the score remained tied.
Then it happened.
At 2:24 into the third period, the clouds disappeared, the seas were parted and Patrick f***ing Sharp scored a f***ing goal.
In his previous 12 appearances, Sharp had put up only three assists; his last goal came on Nov. 27. His fourth of the season gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead and this time they wouldn’t allow an equalizer.
Toews scored into an empty net with 55 seconds left in regulation and Patrick Kane added a second empty-net goal within the final five seconds of the game to make the final score 5-2, but the game was really much, much closer than a three-goal blowout.
The final shot totals were 35-25 in favor of the Blackhawks, but Glass made big saves when needed.
After his two early penalties made it look like Toews was in for a rough night, he rebounded with an exceptional performance. He won 17 of 23 faceoffs and was credited with a takeaway in addition to his two points. Schmaltz and Kane had one goal and one assist each and Ryan Hartman had two assists to lead the offensive attack. Kane had a team-high five shots on net.
David Kampf picked up the primary assist on Sharp’s goal, marking the first point of his NHL career.
Oesterle had another good night, skating heavy minutes as coach Joel Quenneville shows increasing faith in the defenseman. He had an assist and put four shots on net in 23:23:27. He was also credited with two blocked shots and one hit. Duncan Keith blocked three shots to lead Chicago.
John Hayden was credited with a team-leading three hits.
The Blackhawks return home to host the red-hot Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night.