Last night's game versus the Kings at the UC followed a familiar pattern for the Blackhawks: a dominant first period, a weak second and a suspenseful third. And, true to recent form, there were defensive lapses and a couple of weak goals allowed— this time by Antti Niemi.
In the end, the Hawks won the contest in OT, on a gorgeous move and finish by Patrick Sharp (this is a highlight worth catching, folks), perhaps celebrating the return of roommate Adam Burish to the ice after five months' recovery from ACL reconstruction.
In any event, you could definitely feel some of the Hawks' mojo restored last night, after a deflating 5-4 loss to Detroit on Sunday.
In truth, the Hawks' puck control was outstanding last night. But credit L.A.'s defense for pushing a lot of shooters outside to bad angles and Jonathan Quick for some nice saves.
I thought Kim Johnsson had a really nice game last night at both ends of the ice. At a time when some of the other Hawk defensemen are slumping, he's picking up some of the slack.
Nik Hjalmarsson had a big hit on Wayne Simmonds last night and, as usual, made some smart plays. But, he's also struggling at times, too. There's been a bit of shuffling to the pairings with the addition of Johnsson and last night's return of Brent Sopel to the lineup, and that could be part of the issue. My suspicion is Hjalmarsson's hit a bit of a wall recently in terms of mental and physical fatigue. And it might behoove Joel Quenneville to find a way to rest him at some point prior to the playoffs.
Antti Niemi was, mmmm, kinda OK last night. In fact, he's played much better at times this year. The one big positive that was evident last night— in addition to a lot of flopping around and questionable rebounds— is Niemi is a battler. He can give up a bad goal (or two) and come right back and lock it down. But make no mistake, there are some flaws in his game that he and the Hawk coaching staff must continue to work on.
I liked the Union Carbide Sandpaper Line of Adam Burish, Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager.
Let's face it, Burish is not 110% yet. And that's no typo. He looked pretty good out there, but, in spite of an early assist and a fight, he doesn't quite have that Burish edge back either. Once he does, that line could be really, really tough to play against in the playoffs. With unusual size, speed and skill for a fourth line, not to mention three of the most annoying characters to line up against in the NHL.
The Madden/Ladd/Versteeg line was good last night. And while it might appear the top two lines struggled, full marks to L.A.'s defense for a pretty solid game.
Going forward, I would expect Q to stick with these lines and Niemi in net. It appears there's been a bit of experimentation with Johnsson and Brian Campbell playing together, flopping Hjalmarsson down to the third pairing with Brent Sopel at times. This may continue due to Johnsson's contributions at both ends of the ice.
Finally, a salute to Patrick Sharp, often perceived as a supporting player on the Hawks, when in fact, he is a critical part of the team's success. And what a move for the game-winner in OT last night.
Thanks for reading,