It was set to be the Chicago Blackhawks’ biggest challenge thus far. The surprising start by the Toronto Maple Leafs turned what would traditionally be an ordinary game into an extraordinary one. Not only have the Leafs become one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but Dave Bolland will make his return to the city for the first time, to face the team that was his own until just four months ago. Coming into the game, the Leafs knew that status quo wouldn’t be enough. 130 giveaways, a league-high going into the game, was an unlikely number to be held by the 6-2-0 Leafs, and it was one they didn’t want to hold. The fast-moving, skilled Blackhawks would pick apart any team that coughs up the puck as much as that. Something had to give.
The Blackhawks’ new-look lines were hoping for some offense early, something they have been successful in so far this season. A dominating start was stunted by a Brent Seabrook penalty, but it was successfully killed. They got the chance to get the momentum back right after, when Dave Bolland found himself in the penalty box for hooking. Patrick Sharp and Jay McClement kept the special teams busy, but no one could put one in the net. The Blackhawks led in shots 9-3 after one, and half of the United Center proceeded to fall asleep during the frame.
Chicago began the second with sustained pressure, as the Toronto turnovers became painfully evident. Toronto’s short spurts in the offensive zone created rushes for the ‘Hawks, and 5 minutes in, they took advantage. A shot by Andrew Shaw was dropped by Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier, and the rebound went right to Bryan Bickell. #29 out-waited the goaltender, and he scored his first goal of the season, giving the Blackhawks the long-awaited lead. Duncan Keith took a penalty on the next shift, and the Maple Leafs went to work, trying to tie the game. Nazem Kadri did just that, taking a smooth pass from Joffrey Lupul to the net. Kadri’s goal was the first Leafs shot of the period, and it came on the power-play. Mike Kostka, playing against his former team for the first time as well, gave the ‘Hawks the lead again, when he was given too much time on the point. The goal was Kostka’s first of his career. Brandon Pirri kept the Blackhawks’ offense coming, when he scored his second in as many games, extending the lead to 3-1. The goal came on the power-play, the 5th in 27 attempts for the Blackhawks. Chicago held that lead going into the intermission, leading in shots 29-9.
The Blackhawks entered the dreaded third period looking to create more offense in addition to defending the lead, and the opportunistic Leafs needed more chances after only managing 9 shots in the first 40 minutes. Joakim Nordstrom thought he gave the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead, but Bryan Bickell was in the way of Bernier, so the Blackhawks got a penalty instead of a goal. The Leafs finally created some offense on a Jonathan Toews penalty, but the Blackhawks had a huge kill, highlighted by a Marcus Kruger block with no stick. Toews and Patrick Kane were reunited the next shift, and chemistry was intstant, with chances abundant in the whirlwind minute of offense that followed. The Blackhawks carried on with a full 60 minute effort, and the Leafs started playing hockey too late. Chicago won the game, 3-1.
Mike Kostka became the third Blackhawk in eight games to record his first career goal (Nordstrom, Pirri). His goal was also the game-winner.
Jonathan Bernier made solid saves on a bulk of the 40 Blackhawks shots, but a couple miscues cost him tonight.
The Blackhawks finally found a solid third period, but still didn’t manage to score, for the seventh game in a row.
Chicago is back at it on Tuesday night when they head down to Florida to face the Panthers. The Maple Leafs are also back on the ice Tuesday, facing the Anaheim Ducks.
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