Consol Energy Center turned into a house of horrors for the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night, as they lost captain Jonathan Toews to an injury and conceded two goals to Sidney Crosby in a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
James Neal and Lee Stempniak scored goals 20 seconds apart in the first period to set the tone for the game. Sheldon Brookbank picked up the lone goal of the night for the Blackhawks on a second period slap shot from the point.
The Blackhawks got off to a great start in both their puck possession game and their forechecking game in the neutral zone, stopping the Penguins' quick offense in its tracks. On the offensive side, Chicago got plenty of chances early, but none were better than Andrew Shaw's drive to the net in the early stages. The shot ended up hitting the post, and Shaw was drilled into the goalpost after the play, but bounced up no worse for wear.
After a few more good chances, including a wicked snapshot from Teuvo Teravainen from near the wall, but it was the Penguins who got on the board first. Brent Seabrook got his feet tangled up a Penguins player in the offensive zone, and it led to a 2-on-1 rush the other way. James Neal had Beau Bennett skating down the ice with him, but he opted to fire the shot himself and put it past Corey Crawford to make it a 1-0 lead for the Penguins.
Just 21 seconds later, the Penguins scored again. Lee Stempniak got the puck in the neutral zone, and after blowing by a diving Johnny Oduya, he fired a shot right between Crawford's legs to make it a 2-0 game and to suck the air out of the Hawks' sails.
A late power play for the Blackhawks that extended from the first period to the second didn't result in anything for the road side, as they struggled to get the puck around the zone in the face of some aggressive play from several Penguins defenders. Brent Seabrook got the lone chance of the power play when he received a pass in between the face-off circles, but it was stopped easily by Marc Andre-Fleury.
The Penguins then got back-to-back power plays, but the Blackhawks did a nice job to kill off both of them. Crawford stood tall during the ensuing sequence, stopping a redirected chance off the stick from Crosby by flaring out his left leg pad as he slid across the crease.
Perhaps taking advantage of the momentum from the kill, the Blackhawks scored to make it a one goal game. Brookbank got the puck at the point, and after taking a stride toward the middle of the ice, he took advantage of a nice screen by Shaw near the netmouth to beat Fleury top-shelf, making it a 2-1 game.
The good times for the Blackhawks came to an abrupt end when Toews was forced from the game with an injury a few minutes later. As he was trying to chase down a puck along the boards, Toews was drilled by Brooks Orpik on a high hit, and after standing up he was holding his left arm. He immediately left the ice and went right into the dressing room, where he would remain for the rest of the game.
Despite the gut-punch of losing their captain, the Blackhawks came out firing in the third period. Seabrook and Keith both had some good chances from the point, but Fleury was able to fight them off. Marcus Kruger also did some good work in the slot in a couple of sequences, but he also couldn't beat the Penguins goaltender. Finally, Patrick Sharp got off a great shot from between the face-off circles, but Fleury once again stood to the challenge to keep his team ahead.
With about six minutes left in the game, the Penguins extended their lead for good. After Seabrook pinched into the boards to try to stop the puck and missed, Crosby picked up the puck and skated down the ice on a 2-on-1 rush. Just like Neal before him, Crosby opted to shoot instead of pass, and used his excellent wrist shot to beat Crawford and make it a 3-1 game.
Crosby added an empty net goal in the closing minutes of the contest to put the game fully out of reach for Chicago, and the Hawks skated off the ice losing their third straight road game in four days.
The Blackhawks will get three days off before taking on the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.