The Chicago Blackhawks' perfect season has come to an end.
It took a shootout, and one final ping off the crossbar from Patrick Sharp's shootout attempt, to end the best start in Blackhawks' history.
The Minnesota Wild handed the 'Hawks their first loss of the season—though it was in overtime, so Chicago still garners one point in the standings. That one point brings the 'Hawks to a total of 13, which leads the NHL—the San Jose Sharks stand alone in second with 12 points.
It was another strong night for the penalty kill, which faced four power plays—including a 1:23 5-on-3, which required a spectacular save by Corey Crawford.
Crawford also has a great game once again turning away 23 shots and shining when the Blackhawks lacked energy.
Defenseman Duncan Keith remained positive about the team after losing in a shootout.
"We played a lot better the second half of the game," Keith said. "If we had won we probably would be saying we played a great game and we're happy, but we lost in a shootout so we're not going to get down and get negative" (via Chris Kuc Chicago Tribune).
A shootout loss is unlikely to deter this team as it heads to Vancouver to take on the Canucks on Friday night.
Despite the loss, the Blackhawks won't dwell too much on what went wrong Wednesday night. Instead, they'll focus on the other five games of the road trip, according to Jonathan Toews (via Scott Powers ESPNChicago):
That’s a great start. The best thing about that is we’re doing a great job of putting the last game behind us and getting ready for the next one. That’s what we got to keep doing: Keep it one game at a time. We’re on a long road trip now. Can’t look too far ahead. We especially can’t get satisfied if we win a game or two.
With the Canucks, Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks next on the Blackhawks' schedule, Toews is right, the best game plan is to forget the loss and move on.
As easy as that can be, coach Joel Quenneville must stress how flat the 'Hawks came out to start the game.
Minnesota's first goal came due to a defensive breakdown in the Blackhawks defensive zone. Crawford was unable to handle the rebound, and the defense failed to clear the puck before Matt Cullen put it in the net.
Sloppy offensive play held the 'Hawks back in the first half of the game
Patrick Sharp had an unusually bad game, often turning the puck over and failing to produce on the second line. The same could be said of Patrick Kane, who was forcing the cross-ice pass a little too much.
It's easy to get a little lazy in the defensive zone when a team is on a six-game winning streak. The shootout loss may be used by Quenneville as a wake-up call to stress the importance of playing hard every shift.
But even though some areas need to be worked on, the Blackhawks showed encouraging signs that they are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Nick Leddy continued to improve and prove that he is an elite top-four NHL defenseman; Crawford remained solid in net and special teams shined during the penalty kill.
But one of best things to come from this loss is the electrifying play of the Blackhawks' third line. Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg were aggressive whenever their line hit the ice—often generating energy and momentum for the team.
Shaw had the Blackhawks' first goal after Bickell rushed to the front of Minnesota's net to cause a little chaos.
Depth scoring is great to see, especially in a shortened season that is sure to test even the deepest NHL roster.
However the Blackhawks choose to look at this, one thing is for sure: Their road trip is unlikely to get any easier after the loss.
"Going to a shootout, anything can happen," Coach Quenneville said. "We had the play in the last part of the game. It's disappointing, obviously, when you don't win but at least let's get excited about getting back in the 'W' column" (via Chris Kuc Chicago Tribune).
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