Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) advances against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Chicago, Ill. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
The Chicago Blackhawks seemed to enjoy the beginning minutes of periods on Sunday night as they scored early in all three frames in a 6-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at the United Center.
Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Shaw, Michal Handzus, Brandon Saad, and Marian Hossa all scored for the Hawks, and Antti Raanta made 26 saves in relief of Corey Crawford as the Hawks ended their three-game losing streak.
After getting off to a sluggish start against the Anaheim Ducks in their last game, the Hawks didn’t make the same mistake Sunday, as they pushed the tempo hard in the early going. Less than a minute into the game, they got their first power play because of a silly interference penalty by Tomas Kopecky. And Sharp made them pay, firing a great shot from the point that evaded Scott Clemmensen to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
The Hawks kept the pressure on even after taking the early lead, and when Sean Bergenheim went to the penalty box on a double-minor, they were able to take advantage of the power play again. This time, it was Seabrook who made a tremendous read on the play, pinching in from the point after the Panthers’ defense collapsed in on Brandon Saad, and Seabrook uncorked a wicked shot past Clemmensen’s glove to put the Hawks ahead 2-0.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, the good vibes in the United Center quickly turned to feelings of concern a few minutes later when goaltender Corey Crawford went down in the crease with a lower body injury. After stopping a shot, Crawford attempted to pivot to the other side of the crease, and he ended up crumpled up on the ice in pain. Raanta came in to relieve the Hawks’ starter, and even though the Panthers did test him quite a bit early on, he was able to fight off the advances and bring the Hawks to intermission with a 2-0 lead.
Just like the first period, the Hawks started out in the second period with their hair on fire, and they were rewarded early for their aggressive efforts. Sharp brought the puck into the zone on a 2-on-1 rush, and even though Clemmensen was able to stop his shot with a lunging save, Hossa was able to tap home the easy rebound, and the Blackhawks had a 3-0 lead less than a minute into the second.
Chicago got several more quality chances in the following few minutes, with Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig nearly converting on a rush of their own, but Clemmensen stood tall against that onslaught. Jeremy Morin also had back-to-back great chances right in front of the net, but he too wasn’t successful.
Those Florida stops came in handy a few minutes later when former Blackhawks prospect Dylan Olsen got his team on the board. After Johnny Oduya wasn’t able to clear the puck out of the zone, the Panthers collected it, and when Oduya skated in front of Raanta, Olsen took advantage of the screen, putting a shot in the top corner of the net to bring the Panthers to within a 3-1 margin.
Marcel Goc got in on the scoring act just a few shifts later, as Raanta’s clearing attempt failed to get out of the zone, and when Goc skated through the slot, he beat Raanta to the blocker side with a good wrist shot to cut the Hawks’ lead to one goal at 3-2.
The Hawks, reeling from the miscues by Raanta and Oduya, ended up with their backs against the wall later in the frame, with Michal Rozsival flipping a puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty with about eight minutes left in the second. Fortunately for the Blackhawks’ chances, their penalty killing unit came up big once again, killing off their third power play against of the evening and keeping the Blackhawks in front.
Their efforts were rewarded in the late stages of the period when Patrick Kane drilled Clemmensen with a hard shot. The Panthers’ goaltender couldn’t quite get over to cover the far post on the rebound, and it was Handzus who was able to get to the front of the net and tap in the shot to put the Hawks up 4-2 as the second period drew to a close.
The script for the beginning of the third period read much like the narrative for the first and second stanzas, as the Hawks picked up an early power play thanks to a silly boarding penalty by Krys Barch. True to form, Chicago made the Panthers pay, as Sharp’s shot from the point ended up deflecting off of Andrew Shaw’s shinpad and into the net to put the Hawks up by a 5-2 margin.
Florida got a power play shortly after that tally though as Shaw took a run at Brian Campbell and was sent to the box for interference. Thanks to a couple of key saves by Raanta on a sustained possession for the Panthers though, the Blackhawks killed off the penalty, and they promptly went right back to just holding onto the puck and milking the clock.
The Panthers appeared to have cut the lead to 5-3 about halfway through the third period when Erik Gudbranson flipped a puck into the open net following a collision between Jimmy Hayes and Raanta, but the officials reviewed the play and ruled that since Raanta’s mask came off in the course of the collision, the play was automatically dead.
The play sent a chill through the United Center, but fortunately Raanta was able to stay in the game after that play.
Even a late power play for the Panthers ended up going for naught, as the Hawks used a great combination of quick passing and shot blocking to eat up the two minutes in short order. To rub a bit of salt in the wound, Saad ended up snaring a pass from Jeremy Morin through the neutral zone, and he added a breakaway tally to Clemmensen's stat sheet to make the final score of the game 6-2.
The Hawks will look to win their second game in a row when they head back down to Dallas to take on the Stars on Tuesday night.