Chicago Blackhawks Fall to Avalanche In Denver

Tab BamfordSenior Writer INovember 7, 2009

The momentum of Friday night’s game between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks  bounced back and forth like a pinball, and the Hawks fought hard to win a point against the best home team in hockey without some key players.

Chicago got the scoring started with a rocket from Dustin Byfuglien on the power play, which appeared to finally get the Hawks back in the saddle with a man advantage. The Hawks' power play had been miserable for a couple weeks, so capitalizing on an early chance was big for the Hawks' momentum.

Later in the first, Duncan Keith turned around a great pass from Kris Versteeg to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead. The Hawks dominated the first 15 minutes of action, as Versteeg and Patrick Kane both assisted on each of the first two goals.

But the last five minutes of the first period started to show a little fatigue from the Hawks. Whether it was the altitude or games on consecutive nights against good competition, Ryan O’Reilly’s goal late in the first kept Colorado in the game going to the first break.

The second period was the polar opposite of the first.

The Blackhawks got a number of chances and were grossly outshooting the Avalanche, but sloppy play was their undoing. In fact, the power play unit that capitalized early looked like a junior high kid trying to work his way through a bra clasp for the first time.

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If the clock is reviewed, both of Colorado’s goals in the second period appeared to be shorthanded on the same power play, and the momentum had fully jumped into the Avalanche bench. The Hawks looked tired and slow on the ice, and Colorado was taking advantage.

But just like the first period, the last few minutes of the period saw the team without any momentum get one good chance to go in and the game was squared. Andrew Ladd got a nice layup in front of a Craig Anderson rebound and the game went to the third tied at three.

The third period saw the Hawks and Avalanche play physical, aggressive hockey that left the game tied again. Ladd took a boot to the face at one point and was escorted to the locker room, but returned to the game with what appeared to be a broken nose.

Two young players that are on the bubble for playing time when Jonathan Toews and Ben Eager return, Andrew Ebbett and Colin Fraser, both played exceptional games.

Ebbett played nearly 16 minutes and was in the middle of a lot of the action while on the ice. He played the puck well and fought for possession, earning praise from the Hawks' broadcast booth.

Fraser won nine of the 10 faceoffs he was involved in, and played very well on the penalty kill again. Fraser only logged a little over eight minutes on the ice, but was physical when he was out there.

He also served a few minutes in the box for a fairly uneventful fight that broke out just feet from the Hawks bench when he first entered the game in the first period.

John Madden wasn’t very effective with the puck, but won 12 of 17 faceoffs in the game. Brian Campbell, Keith Seabrook, and Versteeg all played more than 20 minutes between regulation and the overtime period.

Versteeg played a lot of center in Dave Bolland’s absence and was very effective, winning six of 13 faceoffs and assisting on the two early goals.

The game went to a shootout, where Antti Niemi was up to the challenge. Even though Niemi allowed Colorado’s three goals on their first eight shots, he shook off the rust and made a dozen clutch saves in the third period to preserve the tie.

In the shootout, Kane opened the shooting by throwing a gorgeous move on Anderson. Versteeg shot second, and did a nice job of working Anderson to his heels but just couldn’t slide the puck into the net.

Marek Svatos was able to get one past Niemi to tie the shootout going to Patrick Sharp, the Hawks' third shooter, who missed high.

And so, just as they did at the United Center earlier this year when these two teams set the Blackhawks’ franchise record for longest shootout (9 rounds), the shootout continued to extra skaters.

It took until the eighth round of shooters, one shy of the nine that skated in October, for Colorado to eventually get the win and the second point.

I’m not sure why, but coach Joel Quenneville decided to go to Cam Barker as the Hawks’ sixth shooter and, already down in the eighth round, opted to ask Byfuglien to tie it. Byfuglien broke his stick trying to unload a missile from 15 feet, and the game was over.

Niemi, playing for the first time in six contests, settled down to play a tough third period. The Hawks only gave up eight shots through the first two periods, but were surprisingly outshot 12-7 in the third. Niemi was solid in that third period and allowed only two of the seven shooters to score in the shootout.

For Colorado, former Blackhawks draft pick Anderson stopped 27 of 30 shots in the game. These two teams face each other again on Wednesday night, Bobby Hull Heritage Night, at the United Center.

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