It’s somewhat strange to have regular season games that come with an air of anticipation. The past two regular seasons, particularly through this part of the calendar, have become a painful test of endurance for fans and players alike with the Hawks pretty much locked into their playoff seed.
This season, not so much. With the Hawks and Stars both striving for the Central Division crown, there is definitely an odd feeling of excitement to watch the standings nightly. Add in the return of an iconic Blackhawk in an opposing sweater for the first time and it almost felt like an important playoff game tonight.
The Stars put away any chance of this being a back and forth affair early as distinguished NHL scorer Patrick Eaves had a hat trick in the first period with a John Klingberg goal mixed in for good measure.
The second period was a little closer to what we thought the first would look like. Then in the third, the line blender brought Kane and Toews together and things swung dramatically in the Hawks favor.
The line scored two goals in the first eight minutes and with twelve minutes to play, the Hawks had a puncher’s chance.
Unfortunately, Kari Lethonen beat Andrew Shaw on a one-timer from two feet out, Patrick Kane’s back-hander hit the outside of the post. Jiri Sekac had a wide open look knocked off his stick by his own teammate. Those were just three of the prime opportunities.
But when you dig this deep of a hole, you can’t afford to miss on those chances.
C’est la vie.
–While it’s very easy to chalk up the third period to the “The Hawks waking up,” the actual reason may have proved some interesting insight into later meetings with the Stars and/or if they meet in the playoffs.
The Hawks have run into match up issues with the Stars two of their first three meetings as the Stars load up their top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. In other news, they scored 3 of their 4 goals tonight.
In the third period and with the Hawks really having problems scratching any kind of extended pressure, the Hawks matched fire with fire and had Kane and Toews skate on a line together for the final frame.
The result was the Hawks outchancing the Stars approximately 4,201-2. Granted, some of this was score effects but it also was because the Stars lost whatever advantage they had in line matching. The next two meetings between these two teams will be interesting to watch, particularly any games left in the United Center as Joel Quenneville now knows he has this advantage to turn to.
–It was hard to count the Hawks out until the end with the way Kane and Toews were playing. Down two goals with 12 minutes left, you figured they had at least 7 shifts left in regulation. To no surprise, they were buzzing around Lethonen each shift. It’s an incredible thing to witness, really. I hope people recognize that something like this isn’t happening everywhere.
–The Patrick Eaves hat trick was a nice gift from the hockey gods. His first goal came off a fluky bounce from Marian Hossa’s skate and he roofed it from an impossible angle. The second was an easy tap in and the third he knocked out of mid air while falling to the ice. Not sustainable in the least but still quite impressive.
–It was a tough night for the Hawks penalty kill as they surrendered two goals on four opportunities. I’m guessing their biggest problem lies in the fact they’re essentially a two and half defensemen team right now with the half being a quarter of Michal Rozsival and a quarter Bartolo Seabrook. Just a hunch, though.
–Not sure what’s going on with Erik Gustafsson, whether he contracted the black plague that’s going around or if he’s hit the rookie wall but he looked three steps slow for the majority of the game. Tonight, he was lacking that bite in his skating that separates him from just another AHL lifer. He definitely didn’t have that explosive first step he had when he first arrived.
There was also a point in the second period where Dallas had the Hawks pinned in. Gustafsson was standing by the post, watching the play and not really engaged with anybody for a solid 10 to 15 seconds. It was a very bizarre thing to see in a NHL game.
–Teuvo had a rough game as well and on his bobblehead night, no less. He got a slow read on the puck prior to Klingberg’s goal which allowed Ales Hemsky to gather the puck. Then Teuvo overcommitted to compensate for his initial mistake only compounding it further. He also was having trouble with Dallas collapsing on him every time he carried the puck into the zone, especially during the first two periods.
But it’s not like he was the only this was happening to and it still took a crazy bounce for the Stars to score on his other mistake so it’s not like Teuvo should be put up on the cross for this.
–So the Stars now sit a point back with three games at hand. The two teams still have two meetings left so the division is hardly being clinched any time soon. Unless the Hawks decide it’s not that important to chase anymore. Which is something that should always be taken into consideration.