Brandon Bollig scored just 81 seconds into the game, but it wasn’t enough as the Chicago Blackhawks surrendered three third-period goals in a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night at the United Center.
Winnipeg goaltender Al Montoya made 34 saves in the victory, while Andrew Ladd scored the game winning goal with seven minutes remaining in the Jets’ triumph.
The game started out with a bang for the Blackhawks as they romped their way through an 18 shot first period. The fourth line got things started out on just the second shift of the game for the Blackhawks, and their effort paid off with the first goal of the game. After Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith worked the puck to the side of the net for Bollig, the Hawks’ enforcer found an open seam, skated behind the net, and put a backhanded wraparound attempt on Montoya’s blocker, which squeaked into the net and gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
The Hawks’ offense wasn’t content to stop there, and they kept firing away at Montoya for the rest of the period. The first and fourth lines continued to do the majority of the work, and the Hawks had several good breakaway scoring chances. First Marian Hossa was denied after receiving an excellent stretch pass from Patrick Sharp, and then Kris Versteeg, fresh out of the penalty box after a delay of game call, was stopped by Montoya after attempting a quick wrister from in close.
Late in the period, the Hawks loaded up on offense after their successful penalty kill, but with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane joining Sharp on the ice, Chicago still couldn’t score. Sharp’s chance from the slot was the best they could muster, and Montoya stonewalled them in keeping the game 1-0 after the first period.
The second period started out in much the same fashion for the Blackhawks, with numerous scoring chances that they couldn’t quite capitalize on. Andrew Shaw and Kane combined for the best chance of the early part of the period, as Shaw fired a pass from below the goal line all the way to Kane on the opposite side of the netmouth, but the Hawks’ sniper wasn’t able to bury the shot as Montoya was somehow able to get across the crease and stop the attempt.
The Blackhawks did have to make a couple of defensive plays in the second period. Brent Seabrook made the first when he deftly batted a pass out of midair on a 2-on-1 rush, and Brandon Saad made the second when he somehow got all the way back down the ice to pokecheck the puck away from Winnipeg defenseman Zach Bogosian on a transition play.
The last few minutes of the period saw some rumblings that the Jets weren’t really to roll over just yet. Ladd had a tremendous opportunity in front of the Hawks’ net, and with both Kruger and Smith all over him, he was still able to get a shot off. Fortunately for the Blackhawks, Sheldon Brookbank was there to save the day, jumping into the goal crease and blocking the shot with his skate to maintain the 1-0 advantage.
The Blackhawks got a few more chances in the period, with Toews getting robbed by a wicked glove save by Montoya, and then the captain was robbed again during a goal mouth scramble with Sharp getting involved as well. Despite outshooting the Jets 27-6 through two periods, the score remained 1-0 after two.
In the third period, the Hawks got off to a nice start with the second line, with Saad doing the honors with an opening salvo. After that chance, the Jets really started to take off. Corey Crawford finally got busy in the early stages of the third, stopping an Adam Pardy shot off a rebound in close to keep the Hawks in front.
With less than 12 minutes left in the game, the Jets’ push finally paid dividends. Off a Mark Stuart blast from the point, Blake Wheeler picked up the rebound and flipped a wrist shot top shelf over Crawford to tie the game up at 1-1.
Following a stellar series of saves by Crawford, the Jets took the lead less than five minutes later. After winning a board battle, Hossa pushed the puck out into the middle of the defensive zone, but the only player in proximity to the play was Ladd, who grabbed the errant pass in the slot and fired a shot over Crawford’s glove to give the Jets a 2-1 advantage.
Reeling a bit, the Blackhawks went into panic mode, rushing shots on the rush and not getting traffic to the front of the net. Their best chance came with the net empty with less than two minutes left in the game, as a Kane pass found Versteeg in the slot. With a wide open cage in front of him, Versteeg rushed the shot and pulled it wide, allowing Winnipeg to escape unharmed.
In the sequence after the Blackhawks pulled Crawford, the Jets sealed the deal. Tobias Enstrom pushed the puck out of the zone, and with about 1:15 remaining, Wheeler skated all the way down the ice and popped the puck into the empty net to give the Jets their final 3-1 advantage.
With three straight losses now on the ledger, the Hawks will prepare to head out on a six game road trip that will lead them into the Olympic break. They will face back-to-back games against the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks Tuesday and Wednesday night.