Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hawks come from behind to sweep home & home with Nashville, 5-4

For forty minutes Sunday night, it looked like Nashville had figured out how to stop the hawks. They played a strong forecheck game, getting in on the hawks defensemen before they could skate out or find an outlet pass, limiting the hawks transition game and their offensive chances.

Nashville jumped out into the lead early, capitalizing on a poor clearance by Brent Seabrook, who wired it around the boards, too hard for partner Keith to retrieve at the other side - it went to the point where it was held in by Cody Franson who directed a shot on net that was deflected by Marcel Goc standing alone in front of Niemi, and into the net for a 1-0 Nashville lead.

The preds then were penalized, with Martin Erat sent off for interference, and while the hawks failed to convert on the pp, they managed to score shortly after the penalty expired. Kane moving in off the right half boards, tried a cross-ice pass for Campbell that was blocked, however, the puck came back to him down low at a sharp angle at the side of the net & he lifted it high into the far corner over Ellis and the game was tied 1-1.

Each team had a powerplay chance later in the period, however they each managed only 6 shots in total in a tight checking 1st period.

In the second, the preds again struck early, again capitalizing on a strong forecheck, getting the puck in behind the hawk dmen Hendry & Campbell. Kane failed to get Campbell's clear attempt up the boards out of the zone as the Nashville defenseman pinched in and Steve Sullivan pounced on the loose puck, skating into the high slot unchecked, and firing a hard point blank slapper that Niemi coming out of his net to challenge, stopped, but couldn't control the rebound which went right to Erat who fired it into the vacated net to make it 2-1 Nashville.

Bryan Bickell, again in the lineup for Versteeg again showed some bright play, racing past two defenders to get to a long, high, stretch pass, shortly after the preds goal, however, he was in too close to do much with it other than a straightfoward shot that was denied by Ellis.

The teams traded some good chances midway thru the 2nd, first Kane moving in off the right side on a sharp angle but his shot was stopped by Ellis. The preds responded when Dumont outraced Sopel & Barker down the left side & forced Niemi to make a good save. Moments later, he fired a wrister from the right point that beat Niemi but hit the left post, bounced back to Niemi, hitting the back of his left pad & then bounced back towards the net, hitting the post again! The hawk goaltender was able to cover up with the help of Sopel & Barker keeping traffic away, tho the preds & Dumont, were unfortunate not to be up by 2.

The hawks outshot Nashville 9-6 in the 2nd, managing to kill off the only penalty of the period, but had given up the only goal to trail heading into the 3rd. They came out looking more determined in the 3rd, with Hossa creating a good close in chance in the first few minutes, however he was denied by Ellis. A penalty to Hornqvist gave the hawks an early powerplay, which almost backfired with Sullivan moving in on a 2 on 1 together with Legwand, with Byfuglien the lone hawk defender back. Byfuglien slid down to try to prevent the pass, but Sullivan managed to find Legwand who forced Niemi to move across his crease quickly and make a good save to keep the deficit at 1.

Moments after Hornqvist's penalty expired, Barker was again weak on the puck and beaten on a strong forecheck by Hornqvist coming out of the penalty box. Hornqvist gained control of the puck behind the hawk net and fed it in front, however Keith was able to keep the puck away from Dumont & eventually cleared it up to Ladd along the left boards. Ladd then found John Madden at the Nashville blueline, in behind the Nashville D (which was changing after the penalty kill). Madden moved in all alone, lifting up his right leg as if to shoot and then calmly sliding it between Ellis' pads, beating him 5 hole to tie the game.

About 3 minutes later, the preds took another penalty, this time Sullivan was sent off for high sticking. While the preds killed off the penalty, the hawks managed to capitalize again shortly afterwards, again after the preds had threatened, getting Sopel to turn it over in his own zone, however, Arnott returned the favor, passing the puck back where Bickell was well positioned to intercept. Bickell then found Madden streaking up the left side with only Suter back for Nashville.

Madden fired a slapper that appeared to hit Suter's stick and handcuffed Ellis, beating him short side on a shot he'd likely want back, and suddenly the hawks were up 3-2.

Yet another Nashville penalty, their 3rd straight in the period just a minute after Madden had put the hawks up, sent the hawks right back to the powerplay, only this time they finally struck on their 5th pp opportunity of the game. 18 seconds after Hamhuis went off, Campbell, after taking a pass from Kane, rifled a shot from the middle of the blue line into the top left corner with Brouwer again screening in front and the hawks were up 4-2 with just over 6 minutes left, having scored three goals in the 3rd.

Surely the preds had to be deflated if not defeated, but to their credit, they didn't quit and were rewarded when, on a delayed penalty call, they worked the puck to the point where Hamhuis after taking a feed from Arnott, fired a shot that beat Niemi with two predators, including the extra attacker alone in front screening & looking for a rebound. Suddenly it was 4-3.

Less than a minute later, Nashville tied it, again with strong forechecking getting on top of the hawks in their own zone, with Hornqvist's centering attempt hitting Hendry's skate & bouncing back to the left point where Cody Franson fired a weak shot towards the net that somehow found its way through traffic & in behind Niemi, who didn't appear to see it, and incredibly the preds had comeback to tie the game late in the 3rd.

It looked like overtime was a certainty as both teams had blown a lead in the 3rd period and could not be blamed to be content on at least getting a point and not risking giving away two. However, the in the last minute, the hawks went on the attack with Toews leading the rush from center on a strong individual effort - he eventually managed to get a wraparound chance to the left of Ellis, however, it was snuffed out, with puck then deflecting off Brouwer's skate to the right of Ellis - Toews won another battle for the puck, tipping it back to Keith at the point, who found Kane in his usual spot to the right of the net with a hard slap pass. Kane's first shot was stopped, however, the rebound came right back to him & he found an opening high & fired it home with 44 seconds remaining to give the hawks the outright win in a wild 3rd period, and giving him his 3rd straight game winning goal.

The hawks managed to score 4 times in the 3rd on 14 shots after managing just 1 goal on 15 shots in the first two periods, tho they were definitely helped by 3 straight powerplays in the final period, finally capitalizing on the last one & their 5th of the game. In a way, you had to feel for the preds, as they played hard and didn't quit despite things going against them, yet had nothing to show for it afterwards, at least in terms of points.

With the win, the hawks won the season series against the preds 4-2, and moved 8 points up on their nearest division rival and improved to 7-0-2 in the 2nd half of back to back games (improving to 3-5-1 with last night's win in the opening game of the home & home series).

Next it is on to face the stars in Dallas.

Hawks take first of home & home vs. Preds, 4-1

The blackhawks started their post Christmas schedule like they finished their pre-Christmas one, with a convincing road win versus a key divisional opponent, this time beating Nashville 4-1 in the music city.

The hawks started off well, showing lots of jump and creating offensive chances. Bryan Bickell, in the lineup for Kris Versteeg, who was out with an undisclosed injury, had a good chance just over 5 minutes in, when he was set up by Byfuglien on a 2 on 1. Bickell got a point blank shot on Rinne, who stacked his pads to make the save, however, the hawks drew a penalty on the play. They threatened on the powerplay, but failed to convert, though drew another penalty just as the first one expired.

This time, the hawks pp struck, with Jonathan Toews intercepting Marcel Goc's clearing attempt in the high slot & dropping it back to the point to Byfuglien, who wristed a shot that found its way through traffic and into the Nashville net, with Brouwer parked in front of Rinne. 1-0 Chicago. It was Byfuglien's 3rd goal vs. Nashville in 5 games this year.

The hawks outshot the preds, 15-8 in the first and started the second again coming out hard & putting pressure on the Nashville net, though Ladd took an early high sticking minor that the hawks killed off with no damage done. Later Toews was set up alone in front of Rinne by Kane, however, he was in close & had little room to maneuver, other than to get off a harmless shoot, with Rinne standing his ground to make the save.

A few moments later, Brent Seabrook at the left point, misplayed a pass at the Nashville line & lost it to Martin Erat, who broke in alone on Huet with Keith in pursuit. Keith managed to get a stick on the Nashville forward, drawing a delayed penalty call, but Erat continued bearing down on a retreating Huet, trying to beat him five hole. Huet made the initial save, but kept sliding back right into the hawk net, with the puck following him in, while the referee, positioned to Huet's left, lost sight of the puck & blew the whistle, waiving off the goal, once he realized the puck had entered the net. However, replays subsequently clearly showed that the puck had entered the net before the whistle blew and replay officials overturned the call on the ice, apparently ignoring any "intent to blow the whistle" on the part of the referee and the game was tied, against the clear run of play.

The hawks regained their composure and about 5 minutes later, Kane & Brouwer broke in on a 2 on 1, with Kane using Brouwer as a decoy he fired a wrister high glove side with Rinne having no chance and it was 2-1 Chicago.

Just over a minute later, also off the rush, the hawks made it 3-1. Tomas Kopecky took a drop pass from Bryan Campbell & moved in to the left circle & fired a shot which Rinne stopped, however he gave a rebound which Kopecky recovered & sent toward the net a second time - the puck slid over to Andrew Ladd alone to the left side of Rinne & he lifted a sharp angle shot over the sprawled pred goaltender.

The hawks took a penalty later, but effectively killed it off by a drawing a penalty of their own with some good work by Toews & Fraser in the offensive zone. Shortly after their abbreviated powerplay, the hawks struck again when Sharp fired home a rebound off a Duncan Keith point shot that apparently deflected of Kopecky, denying Kane an assist for his pass to Keith at the point. 4-1 Chicago at the end of 2, with the hawks again outshooting the preds in the 2nd period, 16-10.

In the 3rd, the hawks put it on cruise control, killing off a minor high sticking call on Hendry (who was in the lineup for Hjalmarsson), outshooting Nashville 9-8 and 40 to 26 on the game. Brent Seabrook threw a big body check midway through the 3rd on Nick Spaling, but also ended up flying hard into the boards in front of the hawk bench. He was slow to get up, and looked a bit woozy as he headed off to the bench, but did return later in the game.

With the win, the hawks moved 6 points up on their closest division rival and meet the preds in a rematch at the UC, their final meeting of the regular season on Sunday.