(Before It's News)
“The Last In Line”
By Patrick Norton
After picking up their first victory of the new year, the Blackhawks had to immediately prepare for season series finale with the Carolina Hurricanes. Only one week removed from an abysmal performance at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, the Blackhawks are still trying to regain their stride from the beginning of the season. Whether or not that is an attainable goal remains to be seen, but the recent 2-3-1 post-Christmas stretch has left much to be desired on the ice. With the Minnesota Wild breathing down Chicago’s necks trailing just one point with four games in hand, a quick turnaround is necessary if the Hawks plan on retaining their status as number one in the Central division.
What better way to get back on track; a match filled with sweet victorious revenge after the curb stomping the Hawks endured on December 30th. Scott Darling was in net on the back end of a back to back when these teams last met, so it was only fitting that the backup goaltender would find himself protecting the 4 x 6 this time around. Darling has provided excellent services to the Blackhawks in his three year tenure as Corey Crawford’s support, but as another successful year for the netminder dwindles down, the conversation has shifted to where Darling’s next home in the NHL will be. He’s shown flashes of starting capabilities and plenty of teams will be searching for their next netminder come this offseason, so it’s not a matter of whether Darling will leave, but a matter of where he will leave for. At 10-4-2 with admirable statistics to accompany his record, he’s become more than just a serviceable backup.
The opportunity for Chicago to string their second win in as many games together is there for the taking, but it all hinges on what team shows up tonight. No, I don’t mean Blackhawks or Hurricanes; I’m talking about the whether we’ll see the offensive driven Blackhawks or the tired and slacking Blackhawks. Last week, we saw the latter in Carolina, but if a win last night can rejuvenate the team, this game has the potential to flip the script written in Raleigh. Chicago is not alone in coming off of a win the day before. The Canes handled the Blues in Carolina, too, but can you catch on to the recurring theme? Carolina thrives at their home stadium, but struggles on the road, just sporting a 6-10-6 record away from PNC Arena.
To answer the question of which team we’d see tonight, I can honestly say I could not tell. First period leads have been difficult to come by for the Hawks this season, but tonight, they struck first. A meticulously beautiful set-up led to a wide open net for Jonathan Toews and the captain cashed. Paired with two quality penalty kills in period number one, the Blackhawks escaped a back-and-forth first period with a one goal lead. Scott Darling was overworked (at least from a millennial’s viewpoint), facing nineteen shots in the first frame, but he stayed strong and kept his team in front.
The Blackhawks made some near-fatal errors in the first period, but Darling bailed them out every time. Not much changed in the second. The Blackhawks were eventually outshot in the period 12-7, but they still escaped with a 2-1 lead over Carolina. It took another penalty kill and a quick powerplay to get the second goal; a Panarin beauty from the left wing circle. But the Blackhawks took their foot off the acceleration and with under five seconds remaining in the frame, Victor Rask picked up a rebound that was the shot off of a previous rebound and put it underneath the frame of Darling and into the back of the net. Just four seconds from entering the intermission with a satisfactory two goal lead, the defensive letdown slashed the lead in half heading into the third period.
It wasn’t until fourteen minutes into the period that anyone invested in this game really had any reason to pay attention. The beginning was a heap of trash for both clubs, but finally, the Blackhawks gained their legs. They sustained dramatic pressure for a few consecutive shifts, but it didn’t result in anything to show for on the scoresheet. Carolina’s bench pulled a Quenneville move and tried to yank Cam Ward with two-plus minutes on the clock down just one, but even with the empty net, the Canes couldn’t figure out Darling, which was assisted with the Canes incapability of entering the offensive zone effectively and efficiently. The Blackhawks were thankful to eventually pick up two points against the inferior traveling Hurricanes. Scott Darling can add this one to his highlight reel, as he stopped thirty-nine shots, a season high for the netminder. Hawks survive, 2-1.
- The penalty kill had a much better night than the effort they put on display against the Sabres just twenty-four hours before. Scott Darling deserves the majority of the credit for his work on the kill, but it was a solid team endeavour nonetheless.
- After playing a dozen games in December, Scott Darling picked up right where he left off in 2016. With Corey Crawford back from his emergency appendectomy for a few weeks now, we’ve seen much less from Darling in recent times.
- Now that Michal Kempny has a longer consecutive games streak than Brian Campbell, he’s making the best of his chance. Sure, KempGod has made news for his recent offensive production from the blue line, but he had a sound night on the defensive end of things, too.
- If you couldn’t watch tonight’s game, make sure to look up the highlights. The set-up to the opening tally scored by Toews was blissful execution. From Campbell successfully pinching along the boards, to Hinostroza muscling the puck over to Hossa, as well as Hossa’s feed to Toews, finished off by Toews lasering the puck from a tough angle into a gaping net, the whole entire play was beautiful.
- Before I bash the intermission reporting of Steve Konroyd, I thought I might express my satisfaction of the Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk pairing in the booth. I’m not old enough to recall Dale Tallon as the color man, but Olczyk continues to put a smile on my face with his quips about hockey, keeping sticks on the ice, and most importantly…soft-serve ice cream. We make fun of that on the Shoutcast, but I chuckle every time.
- Holy moly, Vinnie Hinostroza can fly. Oh my god. With nine minutes gone in the second period, Hinostroza went lightning speed to save icing and provide an A+ opportunity for a trailing Toews. No score came of it, but the Hawks were able to change up their men afterwards.
- Following the kill of the third Canes powerplay, Dennis Rasmussen drew a penalty and it only took #17SECONDS for the powerplay to cash. Panarin received a cross ice pass from Kane and with open ice in front of him, Panarin took a few steps and buried it past Cam Ward for the easy PPG. And the best part? It all stemmed from a failed Viktor Stalberg clearing attempt.
- Ryan Hartman couldn’t find his way onto the score sheet and was caught with his head down a couple of times, but the rookie had another solid performance, even stuck down on the third line.
- Tanner Kero isn’t here to play offense, so you can’t complain when he lacks a scoring touch, but his defense once again proved why he stayed in the big leagues once Hossa was activated from IR.
- Even though they were severely outshot, I never once felt that the Hurricanes were the better team on the ice. The defense had trouble suppressing shots, but I wasn’t severely disappointed with the teams play.
- Brent Seabrook found himself turning the puck over more often than not. Another lousy effort from the highest paid defenseman on the roster. With the recent struggles of the team, I understand lacking motivation, but when the team is beginning to figure it out, they can’t be picking up the slack of their #2 D-Man.
- Steve Konroyd critiqued the way Kempny broke up a 2-on-1 in the first period, calling it “nontraditional.” Give me a break… Kempny blocked two A+ chances from the stick of Jordan Staal. He got the job done and potentially saved a goal, so quit your whining, you cut-rate, dreadful, abominable, disgrace of a broadcaster and analyst.
- Anisimov struggled to keep himself out of the box tonight. A bit surprising coming from him, but sure enough, he found himself seated for two minutes on two separate occasions through the first two periods. Deuces wild!
- After jumping out to a two goal lead in the second period, the Blackhawks seemingly took their foot of the pedal. It bit them in the ass, as Victor Rask netted the third attempt in as many seconds on Darling. That type of defensive letdown is unfortunate at any point in the game, but with just a few ticks on the clock in a period, it’s beyond frustrating to have a two goal lead cut in two.
- In a last ditch effort to suppress the amount of shots the Canes had acquired, Quenneville put his defensive pairings through the lineblender to begin period number three. It caused a bit of chaos to start, but it quickly calmed down as the period progressed. Even though they were leading to begin the period, I can’t imagine Coach Wizzo was too pleased with his team yielding thirty-one shots through forty minutes.
- After allowing the Carolina offense to pound Darling with shots, the defense finally bucked up in the third, but the first forty were so dismal in the shots department, the pairings tonight have found themselves in this portion of tonight's recap.
- In the Loop is still a thing? Power to ‘em.
- It’s a shame that the Spencer Abbott experiment just lasted one game. Down to twelve healthy forwards, Jordin Tootoo found himself making an appearance in the lineup. Sometimes I wonder whether or not I’d rather see Michal Rozsival playing on the fourth line instead of Tootoo. Pretty similar skill level between the two and Rozsival didn’t try and dangle through his legs with zero points this season.
- Something tells me that the Centennial year patch on the sleeves is the league feeling out possible advertisement placements in the future. It’s inevitable, no matter what anybody tells you, but please, if you’re going to do it, keep it simple and put the patches on the front of the jersey.
- Chris Boden looked orange and I don’t think it was my TV’s contrast. Someone’s been spending a little TOO much time in the tanning booth, eh?
- We can praise individual efforts as much as we’d like, but the defense as a whole really hung #LemontNativeScottDarling out to dry. He faced nineteen shots through one and another dozen in the second frame. TVR and Hjalmarsson were on the ice for the Canes late tally in the second period, yet those two have been the least of Chicago’s problems defensively as of recent.
- It wasn’t pretty for either team, but the third period dragged and lacked oomf. One goal deficits always create excitement in hockey, but I could’ve napped throughout the entirety of the period and my recap would still be sufficient.
- Just when I thought I was finished in the ugly section, Comcast SportsNet blessed us with the incoherent Jamal Mayers. Yikes! You could tell he’d experienced more hits to the head than just the memorable errant elbow from Desjardins a few years back. He sounded like a darn robot conducting the post-game interview with tonight’s number one star, Scott Darling.