Elite vs Elite - Blackhawks fall short to Penguins 3-2
Coming into this game the Pittsburgh Penguins IR list was probably longer than their active roster or so it seemed. It also isn’t the size of the list but who is on the IR list. Namely their top guns and scoring threats would be absent which should give the Blackhawks an advantage you would think.
The Penguins coming into the game also have a very good record against western opponents at 6-1-3. While the Penguins are down valuable players they proved you can’t dismiss them or think that any team has an advantage which makes them a very scary team. I can’t even imagine if they had their full roster playing.
As the game opened there was a feeling out process and the nod had to go to the Hawks early who kept the play in the Pens end and test Fleury early. Frolik may have rang the pipe but no score. Now of all the teams to be aware of launching into the head it should be the Penguins but Engellend crushed Marcus Kruger along the boards with a high hit which I’m sure will be reviewed. John Scott stepped in and settled it for hitting Kruger and pummeled Engelland for launching himself into Kruger.
The Hawks went on the penalty kill. Scott & Engellend both got 5 for fighting but Scott got a 10 minute misconduct and a minor for instigation. There was a defensive breakdown between Leddy and Hjalmarsson in the neutral zone and Kunitz scored on a semi breakaway from center ice 1-0 Penguins. As the period went on it clearly went to the Penguins advantage as they controlled the puck with a 17-9 FO advantage. It also was clear the Pens were going to take it to the Hawks with physicality.
The second period opened with .30 seconds left on a PP for the Hawks but no score. Then on another odd man rush when Keith pinched in the Pens zone and the puck got past him and only Seabrook was back when Neal put a snapshot past Emery 2-0 Pens. Emery was keeping the Hawks in this one but was being left alone to fend for himself. The Pens were getting too many odd man rushes with stretch passing in the center ice area.
On the flip side, the Hawks could not mount any sustained pressure in the Pens end and could not fore-check either as the Pens moved the puck quickly out of their own end. They also were committing too many penalties for being behind. Tyler Kennedy go a sweet pass from Lovejoy from behind the Hawks net and it was 3-0 Penguins. Hard to believe that the Hawks could be out skated but that is exactly what was happening.
Then as the third opened, of course the captain Jonny Toews took the game into his hands when he feed a beauty to the net try to reach Stalberg that bounced off of a Pens defender into an empty net 3-1 Pens. Then the Hawks we all know showed up and the speed and the finesse was all Chicago on some precision passing from Hossa to Kane to Stalberg 3- 2 Penguins at 6:12 into the third.
Coach Quenneville had changed up the line combinations and it paid off. There was plenty of time to catch the Penguins. Stalberg hit the post twice but still 3-2 Pens. The Hawks battled but came up just short as the Blackhawks left Pittsburgh with their first regulation defeat in December.
Not really sure why there was such animosity in this game since these teams rarely meet but you could sense the disdain particularly on the Penguins end. Maybe they thought they were playing the Washington Capitals. The only other explanation is that the Hawks will face this from every team right now with them being the leader in the league with points. It also seemed like there were two different Hawks teams from the 1st forty minutes to the last 20 minutes.
The final period had a playoffs feel to it and who knows it is possible for these two to meet and if they do it will be in the Stanley Cup Finals. Let us hope the Blackhawks learn from this one. What started out as a blow out saw the Hawks make a game of it which is encouraging. If the Blackhawks would have played more than 20 minutes in the game they might have had a different result.
The Hawks have to shore up their defense and not let those odd man rushes occur which happen to frequently. All I will say is Blackhawks, other teams are studying your film and know your tendencies, so change them up. Still this game was a good measure for the Hawks to see how they measure up against the Eastern teams. Hopefully they make corrections because the next time they face these Penguins it could be the difference of hoisting another cup or not.
Three stars of the game – 3) Stalberg 2) Fleury 1) Malkin
Hawks next play again tomorrow night @ the UC vs. the Montreal Canadians which can be caught on CSN or WGN Radio 720
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