A pair of fortunate bounces — what some could even describe as a double doink — led to two third-period goals that gave the Blackhawks a 3-1 in over the Blue Jackets on Sunday night at the United Center.
The first 20 minutes were mostly quiet, although the teams did trade a pair of goals. First, Philipp Kurashev scored his third of the season off of this neat passing play with linemates Patrick Kane and Mattias Janmark:
That goal came at the 12:32 mark of the first. Five minutes later, Boone Jenner scored on a rebound to send the game into the first intermission tied at one. The second period was scoreless, thanks to several key saves from Blackhawks goalie Kevin Lankinen.
The Blackhawks broke through in the third because of a few miscues from Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins.
Pius Suter was the first beneficiary of a Merzlikins’ error, catching the Blue Jackets’ netminder on his way back to the crease:
Six minutes later, an aggressive forecheck from Kurashev resulted in a Merzlikins turnover behind the Columbus net and Kurashev corralled the loose puck before finding a wide-open Kane for an insurance tally.
And that was that. The Blackhawks roster was decimated by injuries before training camp even opened and was further ravaged by COVID-19 issues in the past week. Still, this patchwork Chicago lineup scored a pretty thorough 3-1 win over a team that had been leading the division.
- Let’s start with a few disclaimers: I’m nowhere near a goalie expert and we’re only 10 games into a 56-game season. But Kevin Lankinen sure as hell looks like the guy, right? Once again Lankinen made every save he needed, keeping the Blackhawks in a game where they’re severely outgunned. It’s not just the numbers for Lankinen, it’s the overall look and feel of his game. He’s consistently been in the right position to make the saves and he hasn’t been overwhelmed when initial shots on goal have become second and third chances. There’s no reason to declare a winner in the Chicago goalie race right now but Lankinen has the lead by a wide margin and he may start lapping Malcolm Subban and/or Collin Delia with the way this season’s been progressing.
- That Kurashev didn’t look out of place while centering Chicago’s top line for the first time is another massively encouraging development for the young Swiss forward. The Blackhawks really might have something here.
- Reese Johnson was solid in his NHL debut, with a team-high seven hits in 10:56 and the Blackhawks owned a 10-7 advantage in shot attempts while he was on the ice. He’ll probably be destined for an AHL role once Chicago’s roster returns to full health but that’s more to do with his inexperience than Sunday’s performance.
- And on the seventh day, he scored another goal. All four of Suter’s goals have come on Sunday. Like his hat trick last week against Detroit, his goal against Columbus was encouraging because it showed off Suter’s awareness, understanding that Merzlikins was out of position and vulnerable to the exact type of goal that Suter scored.
- The possession battle at 5-on-5 play was mostly even, with Chicago owning slight advantages in shot attempts (43-40), shots on goal (27-26) but well behind in scoring chances (21-14). Perhaps that’s why Columbus had a 56.31 percent of the expected goals share. Still, winning a game without having to rely on a power play tally is another positive sign.
- “Encouraging” is probably the theme of the night. Young players all played key roles in this one: Kurashev’s two points, Suter’s goal and Lankinen’s continued stellar play. That was the hope for this team when the season began.
- Kevin Lankinen (CHI) — 32 saves on 33 shots
- Philipp Kurashev (CHI) — 1 goal, 1 primary assist
- Patrick Kane (CHI) — 1 goal, 1 assist
After a day off on Monday, Chicago kicks off its February slate of games by hosting the Hurricanes on Tuesday and Thursday at the United Center, both 7 p.m. starts.