CHICAGO | It’s almost as if the Blackhawks should have been yelling for some top competition, considering what’s happened over the past week or so.
After huge wins against Western Division high-flyer Anaheim and last season’s Stanley Cup foe Boston, the Hawks finished last week dropping a shootout to banged-up Detroit and losing to Central Division middle-of-the-roader Minnesota that continued to make it a January to forget.
So with Winnipeg in town, dragging along last place of the Central Division of the Western Conference and a .500 record, it would be only natural for the Hawks to want a foe to get the blood pumping before going on to a Magellan of a road trip that included top teams on the West Coast among its seven stops.
With Patton’s Third Army unavailable, it fell to the Jets to try to keep the Hawks performing poorly against some of the league’s poorer teams.
Familiar scenario, same result as the Jets scored three goals in the third period to beat the Hawks, 3-1, in front of 21,841 fans in the United Center on Sunday night.
“Tough loss, for sure, for sure, for sure,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said afterward. “We didn’t put ourselves in some good positions and they were going to get determined in the third period.”
The Blackhawks are 2-2-2 in their last six games, 4-3-4 in their last 10. They are 32-10-12 and could lose first place in the division Tuesday with a loss to Calgary and a St. Louis win against New Jersey.
The Blackhawks started strong, getting 18 shots on goal in the first period. Brandon Bollig scored on an assist by Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger on a shot at the side of the net that got by goalie Al Montoya just 1:21 in to the game.
Montoya played great the rest of the game. Filling in for Ondrej Pavelec, Montoya had 34 saves in the game, flexing into stop after stop, even after getting shaken up after a shot by Marian Hossa ended in a collision at the net in the first.
After a sleepy second period, it was Winnipeg that came out firing in the third. The Jets got its first goal from Blake Wheeler, who flipped a shot over the outstretched glove of Hawks goalie Corey Crawford at 8:16 into the third.
Less than six minutes later, Andrew Ladd took a stray puck in the Hawks’ zone and smashed it past Crawford, a score that seemed to deflate the Hawks and the crowd. When Wheeler scored on an empty netter with 1:15 left many of the fans had moved to the exits.
“I thought we turned the corner after (beating) Anaheim and Boston,” Hawks center Jonathan Toews said. “We played some good hockey the first two periods. I feel we’re an experienced team and we know what to do.”
“I don’t know what it is,” teammate Kris Versteeg added. “After Boston and Anaheim, it seemed like we were getting our game back.”
Back to what is anyone’s guess.