Here’s the final entry of our 10-week Throwback Thursday series (it’s almost regular season time!), counting down to the Hawks’ home opener on Thursday, October 5. Today, it’s one regular season game that stood out among the fulll 82 during the 2016-17 season.
One minor drawback of cheering for a team that has been fortunate enough to have so much postseason success is that it can render the regular season largely irrelevant. The first month is usually a perfect antidote for a hockey-less summer, but once that affliction has been cured, it’s hard to find reasons to get too excited about a Tuesday night matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and a team they won’t see again for the rest of the regular season.
It usually takes until games after the All-Star break for the term “playoff-like” atmosphere to enter the conversation, and it usually happens when two teams atop the league standings face off against each other.
That was the case on March 1 at the United Center.
The Blackhawks welcomed the Pittsburgh Penguins to 1901 W. Madison Street that night, with each team sitting in second in its respective conference. The Blackhawks were on a four-game winning streak, even with Corey Crawford out because of injury. Johnny Oduya had been recently acquired in a trade, but didn’t arrive in time for the game. Chicago’s top six was rolling, though, led by the lines of Nick Schmaltz-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik and Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane.
Whenever Pittsburgh and Chicago are matched up, the narrative always focuses on Toews and Sidney Crosby. But neither player showed up on the score sheet in this one. Instead, the game belonged to Kane, Schmaltz, and Panik. An injury to Anisimov meant those three had to burden an extra load on this Wednesday night. But before we get into the details of this game, one major observation:
The pace of this game? Frantic.
This game was everything I expect out of a hockey game between two teams at the top of the league’s standings. The puck was in constant motion for this game, the speed of that movement only surpassed by the players that were in possession of it. It was the type of hockey that is usually reserved for the Stanley Cup Playoffs but makes brief appearances in the final weeks of the regular season. And it was on display all night.
The unquestioned first star of the game was Kane, who scored two goals set up by Schmaltz and then added an empty netter for his second hat trick in a week.
But there was one other goal scored by Chicago that night and it was the long-lasting highlight from this game — and perhaps the Hawks season.
In the final minute of the second period, Panik corralled a loose puck along the boards just inside the blue line, and ... ya know what? My words can’t describe it any better than a GIF shows it:
It was a great night to be a Hawks fan. And it felt like the team was capable of just about anything after that game. Here’s to a few more nights like that in the next nine months.
And that’s it for our Throwback Thursday series. We hope you enjoyed these walks down memory lane. But enough of the past ... let’s move on to the 2017-18 season!