Friday night’s showdown between the Ducks and Blackhawks at the United Center was just that: a showdown of arguably the top two teams in the NHL. Anaheim came into the game with a record of 18-1-0 over their previous 19 games, while the Hawks entered Friday night’s contest struggling a bit lately with a record of 4-1-5 in their last 10. Prior to Friday’s game against Anaheim, the Blackhawks really looked like a team going through the dog days of the regular season. They had little energy in their game and they weren’t playing nearly as well as they are capable. Maybe it was the fact that they were playing the team with the league’s best record, or maybe they simply got back to their normal style of domination, but whatever it was, the Blackhawks were themselves again Friday night at the UC.
Marian Hossa started the scoring about halfway through the first period when he registered his 28th career shorthanded goal to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead. Incredibly, this was the first lead that the Blackhawks had in any game since January 3rd in New Jersey. Then near the end of the first, some great forechecking and hustle from Kris Versteeg led to the puck ending up in the back of Anaheim’s net. Versteeg was credited with his first goal in 10 games.
The second period saw no scoring, but a lot of domination by the team wearing red. The Hawks seemingly had possession of the puck for about 15 minutes of the 20 that were played in the second period, but just couldn’t find the back of the net.
In the third period, Bryan Bickell scored what appeared to be the put-away goal about ten minutes in. That wasn’t the case, however. Anaheim immediately stepped up their game and struck for two goals in a span of less than a minute to bring themselves within one with about 6 minutes left in regulation. They would continue pressuring the Hawks until they finally had to pull Jonas Hiller for the extra attacker. With 8 seconds left in the game, Marian Hossa scored on the empty net for the Hawks fourth and final goal.
So, here were my observations in this one:
- This may have been the best all around game that the Hawks’ defensemen have played all season. I don’t think you can say that one of their d-men had a bad game. Keith was all over the ice as usual, Seabrook actually stayed on his feet the whole game, Oduya was good on the PK, Rozsival was really active in the offensive zone and saw some time on the powerplay, and Nick Leddy played one of his best games as a pro in my opinion, offensively and defensively. Hjalmarsson was his usual self until he committed a terrible turnover inside the Ducks’ blue line that resulted in Anaheim’s first goal. Aside from that mishap, however, the Blackhawks’ defense was outstanding and really dictated how this game would be played.
- Marian Hossa stayed red hot with two more goals against the Ducks. He now has 18 on the year and 4 in his last 4 games. Hossa continues to prove he is possibly the game’s best two-way player.
- Corey Crawford was solid Friday night with the exception of Anaheim’s second goal. He made another highlight reel save in this game with Corey Perry being the victim this time. This was Corey’s first win since returning from injury, but not because of his play. He has been very, very good since coming back to the lineup, but the Hawks’ defense has not until Friday night.
- Brandon Bollig. I continue to lay awake at night wondering why this guy is still in the NHL, let alone on a team with so much talent in its system. He is not good defensively, and he is basically a liability on offense. If you watch the Hawks on a regular basis, you’ll notice that his linemates try their best not to pass him the puck unless they have to. He has close to zero skill except for a hard wrist shot, and cannot be trusted in crucial points of the game. I honestly believe that if the Hawks were to put Jeremy Morin or Brandon Pirri on that fourth line in place of Bollig that it would become one of the top fourth lines in the league. Bollig drags the line down that much.
- Somewhat similar to Bollig is Michael Handzus. What has this guy done for the team lately? Did you even notice him Friday night against Anaheim? I know he ended up being a big factor in the playoffs last season, but that was still last season. This is now, and he is an anchor in that lineup. He is too slow to be effective in the Hawks’ style of play, he isn’t even close being physical enough given his size, and when he’s not winning faceoffs he’s pretty much useless. Yes, he has had his good moments on the penalty kill this year, but you can’t tell me that there’s no one else in the organization with more skill who could do Zus’s job on the PK. Like Bollig, he’s more of a liability than an asset in my eyes.
- Bryan Bickell finally scored against the Ducks. That was just his second tally since returning from injury. He also had one of his best hits of the season Friday night, only his teammate Kris Versteeg was the victim. Versteeg missed the entire third period as a result but was back on the ice today for practice.
Looking ahead, the Hawks play host to the Bruins tomorrow morning for what will be the first game between these two teams since Game 6 of last year’s SCF. Boston is one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference again this year, so the Blackhawks will have to bring their A-game again in this one. You better believe the Bruins will be looking for revenge in this game.