Last time the Calgary Flames were at the United Center, the Chicago Blackhawks launched 50 shots at Jonas Hiller, only to fall in overtime by a 2-1 count. While Hiller was very strong for his second consecutive start in Chicago, the Hawks were able to get to him just enough in order to grab a 2-1 victory over the stumbling Flames, in continuing their torrid pace here heading deep into the winter months.
This was a tilt that was largely uneventful. The first period saw a scoreless draw, with a pace that didn't particularly favor one side or the other. The Flames quietly outshot the Hawks by a 9-7 count, but it wasn't until the second period that the Flames would get on the board and take the 1-0 lead. Johnny Gaudreau, who seemed to be all over the ice, found Jiri Hudler with a slick pass, which Hudler fired past Antti Raanta for the 1-0 lead. The collective groans from Chicago were audible enough to hear from the farthest reaches of Calgary.
Nonetheless, the Blackhawks would get back into this one, on the power play no less. Just over four minutes later, Jonathan Toews, not to be outdone by Johnny Hockey, found Patrick Sharp on the backside of the net with a sweet dish of his own, which Sharp absolutely pounded home, taking it off the bottom of the crossbar for the equalizer.
The game-winner for the Hawks came in the third period, over halfway through the final frame. Gaudreau lost his footing, leaving the puck on the stick of Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson flipped a pass off the boards up to Jonathan Toews, who left it up to Brandon Saad, who subsequently skated in all alone, firing it past Jonas Hiller for the game-winning tally. The Blackhawks were unable to cash in with over a minute of empty net time for the Flames, but they also minimized chances when Calgary skated with the extra man as well.
In goal, Antti Raanta was solid once again. He did get a bit lucky with a shot off the post on a breakaway early in the game, but he didn't need to do too much, which is when he's at his best (which is probably an extremely obvious statement). It was another win for him, stopping 23 of 24 shots, as he runs his total up to four wins in six games on the year. This backup goaltending situation is going to be an interesting one to continue to see develop as the year wears on.
A decent enough effort from the Blackhawks results in another win. These are the games they need to win, and they were able to keep Calgary in check in dictating possession and demonstrating some outstanding puck movement throughout the game. They'll next meet with another Western Conference contender when they square off against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.
Three Stars of the Night
3. Patrick Sharp
It'll be interesting to see how long this thing goes before we get a leaked report of Patrick Sharp being unhappy on the third line. Regardless, he continues to play well with his mates in the bottom six, as that line was able to generate consistent pressure. Although Sharp's goal didn't come at even strength, it came on the power play, as he took a Jonathan Toews past and put it in a spot where Jonas Hiller never had a chance. Sharp really hasn't missed a beat since he's returned from injury, but will he be okay with continuing to log minutes on the third line?
2. Jonathan Toews
Toews has put together an excellent couple of nights after the world stopped when his head hit the boards in Boston on Thursday night. The Captain was 56 percent from the dot tonight, logging his typical amount of time in all three phases, and finished without a shot on goal. Yet, he made perhaps the largest impact of anyone on the ice, as he was attributed the primary assist on each of the Hawks' two goals, aiding in both the Sharp and Saad goals with sweet passes that have helped to earn him a reputation as one of the best playmaking centers in the league.
1. Brandon Saad
If anybody needed a goal tonight, it was Brandon Saad. He's quietly played some outstanding hockey of late, and it's beginning to translate to success on the scoresheet. Saad scored the game winner on a breakaway in which he rocketed a shot past Jonas Hiller late in the third period. He finished the night with the goal, a plus-1 rating, three shots, a takeaway, a blocked shot, and a healthy amount of time logged on the penalty kill. If he can start finding the back of the net with more regularity, watch out.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.