SABRES AT BLACKHAWKS
The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.
Updated: November 13, 2013 6:15AM
Clinging to a one-goal lead as the clock wound down in the third period Friday night, the Blackhawks could have had plenty on their minds.
Maybe the two-goal lead they blew late against Tampa Bay last Saturday, the one that cost them a point. Maybe the last-minute goal they surrendered at St. Louis on Wednesday, the one that cost them two points. Maybe even the last minute of the first period earlier in the night, when the New York Islanders scored twice in 50 seconds to turn a potential laugher into a nail-biter.
“We felt there were a few points we left on the table,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Tonight could be one of those nights where you fall into the trend and start squeezing the stick too hard late in the game when you’re only up one goal.”
Instead, the Hawks held firm and shook off some early-season bugaboos in a 3-2 victory over the Islanders at the United Center.
“The last couple of games, we weren’t happy with some plays that kind of cost us some points,” said defenseman Duncan Keith, who had two shots that led directly to goals by Toews and Michal Handzus. “We played pretty good hockey, but you want to get those points. We had six possible points, and we ended up with three. It was nice tonight to play good defense and finish it off and not have a mental lapse that cost us a point.”
Before the harrowing final minute, the Hawks largely dominated the game, save for the last minute of the first period. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by rookie Joakim Nordstrom and Toews. Nordstrom’s was the first of his career; he buried a nifty pass from Niklas Hjalmarsson, who threaded it through the crease and Andrew Shaw’s legs.
“It felt really good — I kind of exploded inside,” said Nordstrom, who got the puck from Shaw and likely will ship it home to Sweden. “My parents are going to be pretty excited about it.”
But the good times stopped rolling late in the first. New York’s Josh Bailey scored with 53.6 seconds left in the period, and Kyle Okposo tied it up at 2-2 with 4.8 seconds left. The Islanders’ other best chances came in the final minute of the second period, with Nikolai Khabibulin coming up big in goal, and in the final seconds of the game, when Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin was pulled for an extra attacker.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville talked with his team about the sudden spate of mental lapses late in periods, saying, “It’s certainly got our attention.”
Handzus scored midway through the second period when a Keith rebound came right to him in the slot to give the Hawks a 3-2 lead they didn’t relinquish. Khabibulin, spelling Corey Crawford with another game against the Buffalo Sabres looming on Saturday, finished with 17 saves in his first appearance for the Hawks since 2009.
Handzus was one of many Hawks who were shifted around to new spots in the lineup, moving down to the fourth line and seeing only 9:17 of ice time.
Other big moves saw Brandon Saad back on the top line with Toews and Patrick Kane, Shaw centering Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the second line, and Nordstrom skating with Bryan Bickell and Marcus Kruger on the third line.
Quenneville said he was “trying some things” entering the game and might have hit on a winning combination after two solid but ultimately frustrating games.
“We’ll certainly take the points,” he said. “I liked what we gave up, and that wasn’t much.”