Round 1: Blackhawks edge Red Wings, 3-2

Five more of those please!

The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings put on sixty minutes of playoff-like hockey in front of a season high 22,166 at the United Center Friday night and the Hawks prevailed in the end with a 3-2 victory.

For sixty minutes, it seemed as though the only stoppages in play were for the two intermissions. The game opened with five or six minutes of continuous, back-and-forth action before the first whistle was ever blown.

Justin Abdelkader gave the Red Wings the early lead half-way through the first period after a big rebound was given up by Hawks goalie Corey Crawford. It seemed to sit there in the slot forever after the initial Drew Miller shot was stopped and Abdelkader beat Patrick Kane back to put the Wings up 1-0.

Just five minutes later though, Captain Serious Jonathan Toews put things on his shoulders and drew a penalty shot on a Niklas Lidstrom hook, which came just a couple minutes after Lidstrom got away with a hold on a Marian Hossa breakaway.

Everyone in the building knew Toews would go five-hole. Everyone but Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. Toews netted his 21st goal of the season to even the score at 1. Another Lidstrom penalty late in the 1st put the Blackhawks on the power play again but they were unable to capitalize.

The Wings jumped back on top early in the 2nd. After killing off back-to-back penalties, a Mike Commodore slapper from the blue line snuck past Corey Crawford thanks to a Todd Bertuzzi screen and deflection.

Once again, the Blackhawks were quick to retaliate. Marian Hossa absolutely burned Valtteri Filppula with some nifty puck-handling and sniped a wrister from the top of the far circle past Howard to tie the game at 2 apiece.

The Hawks nearly went up 3-2 in the second after Daniel Carcillo was able to give the Hawks an odd-man rush along the boards. He left a nice dump pass to Toews in the slot who patiently waited to feed Hossa on the near post. With Howard doing snow-angels in the crease, Lidstrom saved an empty-netter by getting a piece of Hossa’s shot with six minutes remaining in the second period.

The United Center was absolutely rocking throughout the entire second period, which felt a lot like a playoff game rather than the first meeting of the season between the long-time rivals.

The third period started with the same feverish pace and the Hawks speed proved a bit too much when a Brent Seabrook one-timer got past Howard to give Chicago the 3-2 lead. Despite getting caught during the middle of a change, and with only four men on the ice, Kane was able to find Seabrook all alone and it proved to be all the Blackhawks would need to fend off the Red Wings.

It was a great “measuring-stick” game for the Blackhawks. The victory earned them their 52nd point of the season, staying at the top of the Western Conference and moving five points clear of the Red Wings.

There were a lot of positives. Outside of one shift, the Blackhawks defensive pairings all looked great. Obviously, it’s great to see Seabrook and Keith back together and playing well. But the Leddy and Hjalmarsson pairing also played well. Hjalmarsson played a great game from beginning to end, especially after having a stinker against the Kings, and each and every day, Leddy is looking more and more like Brian Campbell. Combined, the blue-liners held Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen to just a single shot, registered by Zetterberg.

Corey Crawford continued his brilliant play since being reinstated as the number one goalie. Tonight, he made 26 stops on 28 shots. While he gave up a couple rebounds here and there, he also made some clutch saves and kept the Red Wings at bay. He moves to 3-1-0 since taking back over for Ray Emery.

Jimmy Hayes made his Blackhawks debut and was played very well overall in replacing Brandon Pirri. While he did get called for a holding penalty late in the first, he played very physically and nearly scored on his first ever NHL shift. He finished with two shots on goal and also registered a blocked shot and four hits in 8:23 of ice time.

The negatives for the Blackhawks were the power play and the continued struggles of Michael Frolik, Bryan Bickell and to an extent, Andrew Brunette. Kane was pretty quiet in his return to being a center rather than a winger, but he was able to make some plays and did get an assist on the Seabrook goal.

The power play unit went 0-5 and weren’t able to produce many good scoring opportunities. Too often, the puck would move from the blue line to the top of the circles and back without and shots on net. Capitalizing on just one of those five power play opportunities could have done a lot to sway momentum into the Hawks favor, but nonetheless, they prevailed.

Overall, it was a very evenly played game by both sides. The difference was Hossa’s brilliant play on both ends of the ice and the Blackhawks team speed, which only the Red Wings young fourth line was able to keep up with. Luckily, these two teams will hook up five more times in the new year.

The Blackhawks improved to 24-10-4 (52 points) while the Red Wings fell to 23-13-1 (47 points). The Hawks will next face the Edmonton Oilers on January 2nd.


Three Stars of the Game:

#3 Brent Seabrook (1 G, 0 A)

#2 Jonathan Toews (1 G, 0 A)

#1 Marian Hossa (1 G, 0 A)


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