Decimated Hawks battle hard but fall in Phoenix

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Expectations weren't too high for this one, at least for me personally, because the Hawks are just very depleted right now and if many of the young players up right now are going to make a difference, it's going to take time for them to "gel" together. Tonight was a good effort, but ultimately the Blackhawks fell 4-2 in Phoenix.

Nikolai Khabibulin made 19 saves on 22 shots on Thursday, coming up with a decent performance but it wasn't enough to keep the Hawks from losing to the Coyotes, 4-2.

The first period was largely controlled by the Coyotes, who took advantage of the space given to them in the Hawks' zone to create some chances on Nikolai Khabibulin early in the game.

Just about 6 minutes into the 1st, Phoenix would grab the lead with a goal. On this play, Khabibulin actually made a tremendous rebound save on Martin Hanzal, but he didn't know he had the puck still under him, and when he did, he accidentally knocked the puck into his own net with his glove. A tough break to give Phoenix the 1-0 lead.

Just about 10 minutes later, the Coyotes would make it a two goal lead. This occurred when Craig Weller would sneak in from the point, and would take a pass from Daniel Winnik, who was behind the net, and buried it with a quick snap shot. I think the blame for this one goes on Duncan Keith, who just didn't cover the passing lane. This put Phoenix up by a score of 2-0, which they held into the intermission.

The 2nd would not see any scoring for either team, but the 'Hawks took control of the game by working a little harder and at least getting some chances on Phoenix goalie Mikael Tellqvist. They out-shot the Coyotes by a total of 9-2 in the 2nd, but they entered the 3rd period still down by a score of 2-0.

There was an interesting incident about 6 minutes into the 3rd period, with the Hawks still down 2-0. Keith Ballard would collide with Jack Skille in the neutral zone, in what looked like a knee-on-knee hit at first glance. This caused Adam Burish to retaliate, going straight after Ballard, dropping the gloves and getting plenty of punches to his head before they were separated. Unfortunately, Burish was given a 2 minute instigator, 5 minutes for fighting and a 10 minute misconduct. At the same time, Martin Lapointe would get involved and get himself 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 10 minute misconduct of his own.

The Coyotes would end up with a 5-on-3 for the full two minutes when the dust cleared. Just about 40 seconds into the advantage, Radim Vrbata would get the puck in the slot and fire a quick wrist shot past Khabibulin, giving Phoenix a 3-0 lead with just about 12 minutes left in the game. I think this was a situation where Martin Lapointe had to keep his head, be a leader and not get his team into the situation that he eventually did. It's the least you could ask for from a guy with 3 goals, right?

About midway through the 3rd, still down three goals, I think the Hawks really turned on the pressure and started battling hard. With about 8 and a half minutes to go in the game, they would get on the scoreboard when Kris Versteeg, who played a great game tonight, set up Cam Barker from behind the net, and Barker let go an absolute laser beam from point blank range that Tellqvist had no chance to stop. This made it 3-1 Coyotes at that point.

Later on, with about a minute and a half remaining, things got real interesting when the Hawks lit the lamp again. On this play, Versteeg was simply working hard in front of the net, picking up a loose puck, and shot it off a Coyotes defenseman and into the net, giving him his first NHL goal and making it a 3-2 contest at that point, and you were starting to get the feeling the Hawks would tie this one up.

Unfortunately, though the Hawks would get the puck in the Phoenix zone after pulling the goalie, Phoenix quickly recaptured and Fredrik Sjostrom would pick up the loose puck at the Hawks blue-line and put it into the empty net, icing the 4-2 victory for the Coyotes.

I don't want to blame other factors for this loss too much, but I think the referees seriously need to get their heads out of their rear ends. Tonight was just lame officiating all around. The Hawks had only 3 power plays tonight, and have had only five over the last three games. That is ridiculous. I'm not saying it's a "conspiracy", but it was just unfair tonight, Phoenix committed plenty of infractions in the 3rd period especially, and they did not get called for it. Denis Savard also complained about this in the post-game conference.

I'd like to commend the effort of the kids tonight, especially Jack Skille and Kris Versteeg. Versteeg ended up with his first NHL goal and an assist, and he played strong offensively all night. Skille just has awesome speed and I think he will eventually start putting pucks in the net. These kids battled hard and really the whole team did not give up, despite being down a couple of goals and obviously dealing with a slew of injuries. Unfortunately, they could not come away with any points tonight.

SCH Hawks Player Of The Game: Kris Versteeg. The youngster picked up his first NHL goal and assist tonight, and made some things happen in the offensive zone.