Playing the Nashville Predators for the second time in a week, the Blackhawks got off to another quick start on Wednesday night, which would help them eventually take care of business at home again, as they knocked off Nashville by a score of 5-2, in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,511 -- the first sell-out at the United Center since the 2005-06 season, giving them their fourth victory in a row.
Although the first 10 minutes or so were probably a little sluggish as both teams tried to get their legs back under them after a couple of days off, the Hawks would get on the scoreboard with another goal of the short-handed variety.
On this play, Jonathan Toews was able to come out with the puck in the neutral zone, made a nice move around a Predator defenseman in the Nashville zone and found Patrick Sharp coming in from the slot with a nice pass, and Sharp poked it home for his team-leading 19th goal of the season, and his 7th short-handed tally of the year.
Just four minutes later, with about five minutes remaining in the 1st period, the Hawks would make it a two goal advantage, when Jonathan Toews would take a pass down low and let a shot go that would beat Predators goalie Dan Ellis, probably a goal he would like to have back. Ellis was pulled at that point, and replaced with Chris Mason. The exact opposite happened in the game a week ago, when Mason was replaced with Ellis. The goal made it 2-0 Hawks, a lead that they would hold into the 1st intermission.
The 2nd period would have no scoring, and although the Hawks were out-shot 12-6 in the middle frame, Nikolai Khabibulin stayed strong in goal and made some tough stops to keep Chicago out in front. He really played a great game tonight and deserves a lot of the credit for the victory. The 2nd ended with the Hawks still up 2-0.
In the 3rd, the Predators came out strong, cycling the puck and moving their legs well and you could tell that the Blackhawks were definitely on their heels at that point. Just two minutes into the 3rd, Alexander Radulov would pick up a rebound off a shot from Radek Bonk and would put it away past a fallen Khabibulin, cutting the Hawks' lead down to 2-1.
After that goal, Nashville kept coming hard and looked very determined to come up with the tying goal. However, Khabibulin would make a huge stop on a breakaway by Jerred Smithson, and that would sort of swing the momentum back to the Hawks, and six minutes later, they would get their two goal lead back.
On this play, Robert Lang made a really nice stick-handling move to get around a Predators' defenseman, and would let go a back-hander that would beat Mason and get into the net, giving the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead at that point.
Just four minutes later, the Predators would come right back and score again, this time courtesy of Marek Zidlicky, who picked up a rebound off a David Legwand shot and easily knocked it home. I'm not sure what the Hawks' defense was doing on this play, because Zidlicky was completely untouched right in front of the net and has probably never scored an easier goal.
Only a minute and a half after the Zidlicky goal, Robert Lang would strike again, to pretty much put the nail in the coffin at that point. He would pick up a loose puck down near the goal and back-handed it past the glove side of Mason, making it 4-2 Blackhawks with just about five minutes left in the 3rd.
Patrick Kane would put the icing on the cake with just over a minute to go when he buried a goal into the empty net, making it 5-2.
There was a costly fight after the final buzzer sounded, between James Wisniewski and Jordin Tootoo. Wisniewski easily finished off Tootoo in what was a really good fight actually, burying him with 4-5 lefts right to Tootoo's head. Unfortunately, after the fight, Wiz was skating back to the bench and fell to his knees all of a sudden. You could tell it was serious, as he had trouble skating off on his own power.
After the game, it was reported that Wisniewski has an injury to his knee and is going to miss at least 4-6 weeks, which is what Denis Savard speculated in his post-game conference. This is a tough loss, as Wisniewski has been a tough customer and fairly steady on defense. This will probably mean Andrei Zyuzin is going to come out of the pressbox and back into the lineup, which is a negative thing all by itself.
Brent Sopel also suffered a hand injury in this one, but it is apparently not a major one and he should be OK to play on Sunday against the Kings.
I attended this game personally, and I must say it's a lot of fun to be at a Hawks game when they are 20,000+ fans as opposed to the 11-12,000 that we have seen very often at the UC lately. There were some great moments where the crowd really got into it, especially when Khabibulin received a standing ovation in the 3rd after his save on the Smithson breakaway. It was a pretty good effort -- a little sloppy and ugly at times, but overall the Hawks made the most of their scoring chances, and Khabibulin came up with some huge stops. Let's hope the wins and the big crowds at the UC keep coming.
SCH Hawks Player Of The Game: I gotta go with the man who was also the #1 star in this one, Nikolai Khabibulin. He made 30 saves and was the main reason the Hawks came away with a victory.