What better way for Jonathan Toews to break through than an overtime game-winner? The captain did just that in driving to the net for the only goal in the Chicago Blackhawks' 1-0 OT victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. Even without Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and the defense came through with the shutout of the Bolts for the Hawks' third straight win.
The Lightning returned to the United Center tonight with their roster largely intact after their defeat here in the last spring's Stanley Cup Final. After eight straight starts by Ben Bishop, Kristers Gudlevskis started in goal for the Bolts with only two previous NHL starts under his belt. Despite facing an inexperienced goaltender, the power play for the Hawks stalled and struggled throughout the night, starting with a penalty on Nikita Nesterov early on.
Once again the Hawks penalty kill rose to the occasion, though, keeping the Bolts from setting up shop in the zone. Third-liner Ryan Garbutt put together an amazing shift to close out one penalty kill. With a skirmish at the Hawks net as the buzzer sounded, the score remained 0-0 at the end of the first with shots tied at nine apiece and the Hawks holding the advantage at the face-off dot.
The second period started off with David Rundblad making a return to the box for interference. This time around the Lightning managed much more time in the offensive zone, but the Hawks held the them off once again. Much like the first period Chicago continued to have trouble penetrating Tampa's defense to get any pucks to the net. As the halfway mark of the second period approached the Hawks' second line of Kane-Anisimov-Panerin pushed it in to high gear with the best shift of the game and drew an appreciative roar from the United Center crowd.
Through 30 minutes, the Hawks continued to neutralize Steven Stamkos, who has tallied eight goals in his last six regular season games against the Blackhawks. All told, the Hawks played much better in the second period, putting more pressure on the Tampa defense, skating with much more fluidity and spending more time in the offensive zone. A trip to the penalty box for Andrew Shaw for interference at 19:21 would end the period with the teams still deadlocked in a scoreless tie. Shots on goal in favor of the Hawks, 19-13, with Garbutt leading all scorers with six shots on goal as the Hawks held Tampa to only four shots in the period.
The Hawks began the third period with their fourth penalty kill of the game and after Valtteri Filppula was sent to the box early on for hooking, Chicago was once again on the hunt for a power play goal and the lead the in this game. However, nothing came from it as they were unable to set up in the zone and put any pucks in the net. The young net minder for the Bolts continued his strong showing, turning away every shot that came his way.
Fortunately, Corey Crawford was matching him save for save and eight minutes into the period, the score still remained at 0-0. There appeared to be a lot of confusion on the part of the Hawks in period three with errant passing and little puck control in evidence. The Hawks once again dominated in SOG in the third period, yet couldn't get a favorable bounce. As time ticked away, Tampa began to press and created a bit of a flurry in the offensive zone, all nicely handled by Crawford. Ending in a 0-0 deadlock, the Hawks headed to OT and within seconds the Captain scored his first goal of the season, effectively shutting out Tampa for the win. That's certainly one way to do things.
ONE, TWO, TREE THOUGHTS
What happened to Bryan Bickell?
Bickell was a healthy scratch again Saturday and as the first couple weeks of the season pass, we seem no closer to answering the questions that surround him. Will he ever again bring his playoff form from that bygone Cup season to the ice in Chicago? Was that ever even a realistic expectation? Is he done in Chicago? Bickell was an average NHL player who posted average point totals prior to his big show in 2013. While we all hoped that he would bring his playoff prowess to the ice each night at the UC that has not happened. I would love nothing more than to see him conquer his demons and be that average NHL player here in Chicago, providing us with modest scoring, a big body and steady defense. The Hawks could use that with the youth they now have on this team. However, I'm afraid that's not going to be the case and seeing Bickell languish in Quenneville's dog house as a healthy scratch night after night or on the bench playing mere minutes a game is a sad and disappointing end for a good guy.
It's not pretty. But...
With all of the new faces (and numbers) on the ice for the Blackhawks this season, sometimes it doesn't look like the professional hockey we're used to seeing in Chicago, let alone what we've come to expect from our Stanley Cup championship teams. Not yet household names like Toews, Kane and Hossa, the likes of Panarin, van Riemsdyk and Vincent Hinostroza are hitting the ice every night with everything to prove and looking to all the world like a bunch of big kids. Though I often find myself smacking my head at some of their miscues, I am excited about what I see. These young guys are loaded with potential and given time, experience and maturity, they could help our core deliver another Stanley Cup to Chicago in the not-too-distant future.
No more, please
Finally, David Rundblad is doing this team no favors. At times he looks like he is standing still on the ice and when he is actually moving, it's so slowly that he winds up committing a penalty as he tries to catch up. I'm not sure where he needs to go, but on our bench night after night is not the place. It's not working out.