On consecutive days following the break for Christmas, the Blackhawks are playing their final two games of the season against the Nashville Predators. These two games could play a large role in determining the winner of the Central Division this year, and with the first coming on the road, it was important for the Hawks to get off to a good start.
I’m not sure I would call the first period of Saturday night’s game great, or the final stat sheet predictable, but the outcome of the contest was fantastic.
Nashville came out of the gates hitting and skating hard, and it took some time for the Hawks to get their legs under them. It wasn’t until Dustin Byfuglien found the back of the net in the middle of the first period on the power play that the Hawks appeared ready to handle their business.
In the second period, they controlled the action and might have taken away Nashville’s hopes for the division.
After Martin Erat turned a Brent Seabrook turnover into a tying goal, it was Patrick Kane starting a cascade of goals that brought the second period to an end with a 4-1 score in favor of the Hawks. Andrew Ladd followed Kane’s tally only 70 second later with what appeared to be a back breaking goal, and Patrick Sharp crushed the Predator’s hopes and the excitement in the crowd, with a nice put-back to finish the scoring in the period, and the game.
Cristobal Huet, who wasn’t his best while losing his last start to San Jose on Tuesday night, was back to being special. He stopped 25 of 26 shots in the game, with only Erat beating him. The defense in front of him was exceptional as always, killing all three of Nashville’s power play chances and again blocking a lot of shots.
Where the game became unpredictable, though, was when the dust settled the box score for the night.
Coming into Saturday night’s game, Tomas Kopecky had three points as a member of the Blackhawks this season. He scored his only goal against Nashville, but that was more than two months ago. In fact, he hadn’t scored a point since Nov. 19 in Calgary. His minutes have dropped, he’s been a healthy scratch in favor of Jordan Hendry for a number of recent games, and his minus-eight rating is the worst on the team. Frankly, he had been bad and wasn’t showing many signs of coming out of his funk.
Then Saturday happened.
Kopecky was the third star of the game, chosen over Sharp, Byfuglien, Ladd, and other more likely candidates. Why? Because Kopecky had, by far, his best night in a Chicago sweater. He had two points, both assists, and was plus-two for the night despite not playing nine minutes in the game.
Maybe it was Kris Versteeg being a late scratch because of illness, or perhaps he left his offense in his stocking last Christmas and found it when opening gifts on Friday, but either way the game was an enormous lift and will hopefully lead to better play moving forward from Kopecky.
Speaking of Versteeg, both he and Niklas Hjalmarsson were scratched due to illness. The Blackhawks did, however, get both Cam Barker and Ben Eager back from a recent stretch of absences. Eager, as he tends to do, got into a scrap and found himself in the box on Saturday, while Barker had an assist in over 14 minutes of action.