For 40 minutes the Chicago Blackhawks did just about anything they wanted against the Winnipeg Jets.
They dictated the pace. They controlled the puck. They outshot the Jets, coming off a game against Toronto on Saturday night, badly — 27-6-after-two-periods badly. There were two things the Blackhawks couldn’t do, however: get one more goal and close out the final 20 minutes. The Jets, however, did.
Brandon Bollig scored his sixth goal of the season 81 seconds into the game, but the Jets scored three unanswered goals in the third period en route to a 3-1 victory on Sunday night. It was a bitter loss for the Blackhawks, who were the dominant squad through the first 40 minutes. But they could manage just one goal against Jets backup goaltender Al Montoya. The Chicago-area native was stellar in stopping 34-of-35 shots in his first victory this month.
Bryan Bickell was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. The left winger has struggled through most of 2013-14, especially off his left knee injury that sidelined him nearly a month. Defenseman Mike Kostka played in Bickell’s spot with Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg. Head coach Joel Quenneville said it was a coaches’ decision to sit Bickell.
“We need a lot more. We’re looking for more,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks who did play were frustrated after this one, including captain Jonathan Toews.
“I don’t have an explanation without saying anything negative. We threw away another two points,” he said. “We played good hockey in the first two periods, we know what we’re supposed to do in those situations. We just haven’t done it lately.”
What the Blackhawks needed to do was capitalize on more chances, including the three power plays they had. They didn’t. Be it Montoya’s good work or the Blackhawks’ inability to get second or third opportunities, Bollig’s early wraparound goal was it.
“I didn’t like where we put the puck,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance with second or third opportunities. Whether (Montoya’s) seeing the puck or not, I still think we made it easy for him where we put it. We still had enough bodies (around the net), but we didn’t get ourselves second opportunities by where we put original shots.”
After being outplayed and outshot the first two periods, the Jets had the inevitable pushback in the third period. Blake Wheeler scored his 20th of the season to tie it 8:16 into the final frame. Less than five minutes later, a wayward pass by Marian Hossa went right to Andrew Ladd, who notched his 12th of the season for a 2-1 edge. Wheeler had the empty-net goal with 1:15 remaining to seal it.
“We were good for 40 (minutes), and they got a lucky bounce off the ref and it snowballed in the wrong direction,” Versteeg said. “We were the better team the first 40. But give them credit: They came back and played their game.”
The Blackhawks were feeling great after last weekend’s victories against the Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins. They haven’t felt so good since, for obvious reasons. Be it mid-season malaise, bad decisions or unfortunate bounces, the Blackhawks have hit a bump in the road.
Speaking of the road, the Blackhawks hit it for the next 12 days, starting Monday. January hasn’t been kind to the Blackhawks, who have followed great outings with forgettable or incomplete ones. They want to channel their frustration the right way, and for all 60 minutes, come Tuesday in Calgary.
“Let’s look at the short term,” Quenneville said. “Let’s look at Calgary, and be angry at what happened tonight.”