CHICAGO -- It’s one of the more disturbing trends of the Chicago Blackhawks season: Giving away a tight game in the third period.
It happened again in Thursday’s 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks at the United Center. The Hawks clearly grabbed the momentum late in the second period, scoring two goals in the final 23 seconds. But the Sharks rebounded with two of their own in the third to win the game. It was the second straight contest in which the Hawks were outscored 2-0 in the final 20 minutes.
“It’s [another] disappointing ending to our recent losses over third periods,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Where we’re tied, and looking like we’re getting something out of the game, and we come up with air. That’s things we have to prevent.”
The Hawks have given up 47 goals in the third period this season -- easily the most in the NHL. No other team has given up more than 43. And a lot of the goals aren’t coming in blowouts, but in close games causing the Hawks to skate off with nothing at the final horn.
“I can give you more than one, as games that [are] could’ves and would’ves,” Quenneville said. “I don’t know how many games we were tied in critical stages of games and come up with no points. It’s frustrating and disappointing. That’s the area, if we want to become a playoff team and a better team, these are points we need to have. We’ll find a way to get up in the standings if we find a way to get points, two particularly.”
Toews effect: Not surprisingly, the loss of Jonathan Toews was felt all over the ice, possibly most of all after the Hawks called timeout late in the contest, down a goal with their goaltender on the bench. An offensive-zone faceoff was forthcoming. Instead of having Toews and his 59.6 percent winning percentage, Tomas Kopecky was tabbed to take the draw. Kopecky had won 33 percent on the year coming into the game.
“Johnny would definitely be there,” Quenneville said. “Kopy was our best guy tonight.”
Kopecky lost the draw and when the Hawks eventually got the puck back in their own zone, he promptly turned it over, leading to the Sharks’ empty-net goal. And for the record, Kopecky won nine and lost eight as their best on the night. The Hawks won just 45 percent of their faceoffs.
“You could argue, coming off the last game, we had several candidates that we weren’t happy with,” Quenneville said. “We’re trying to keep [him] more consistent to his best performances.”
Niemi wins again: Former Blackhawk Antti Niemi beat his old team for the third time this season, but not before some trying moments after he gave up two goals in the final 23 seconds of the second period, allowing the Hawks back into the game. Defenseman Dan Boyle described the scene in the Sharks’ dressing room during the second intermission.
“There were a few F-bombs for about a minute and then we kind of calmed the dressing room down shortly after,” he said. “We just said ‘Hey, we’ve still got a chance to win the game.’ It took about a minute but it did calm down after that.”
On-air news: The Hawks announced during the game that the contracts of TV broadcasters Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk were extended by three years.