CHICAGO | Letting his Blackhawks sleep on their worst performance of the season in Nashville on Saturday, coach Joel Quenneville delayed a locker-room review of the debacle until shortly before Sunday’s game.
The Stanley Cup champs must’ve gotten more encouragement than not. They responded with a vintage bounce-back performance via two goals from Patrick Sharp and one by Jonathan Toews.
Then they capped the good night, riding the emotion from 2010 hero Kris Versteeg’s first score in his return to the Hawks in a 5-1 victory over the Sharks.
The win was a farewell present from the 14-3-4 Hawks for another United Center sellout of 21,434. The contest was the last home game before the annual “circus trip,” this time seven Western Conference road games to finish out November.
“No, definitely not,” Versteeg said if he could have better scripted his first United Center game since the Hawks re-acquired him in a Thursday trade with the Panthers.
“Last night (the 7-2 loss to the Predators) wasn’t definitely the way I saw coming back in my head...I played once here with the Panthers. The last time I was back was Game 5 (of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals). That was my last great memory of the UC.
“Tonight was special. Best fans in the world.”
First of the 2010 champs to come back after being traded due to salary-cap restrictions, Versteeg also assisted on Brandon Pirri’s first-period goal that opened the scoring.
With a go-ahead second-period goal and a late-game penalty shot, Sharp insured the bad taste from the Nashville loss was wiped away.
“It was a good response after a tough game in Nashville,” he said. “We came out right from the start of the game with better speed and winning one-on-one battles than we did last night.”
Among the pregame topics by Quenneville was the absence of winger Marian Hossa for the second straight game due to a lower-body injury. Brandon Saad took Hossa’s place on the first line with Sharp and Toews.
Meanwhile, Versteeg was bumped up to the second line with Pirri and Patrick Kane.
In addition, Quenneville welcomed a new backup goalie in Finnish rookie Antti Raanta, called up from Rockford of the American Hockey League. Raanta replaced struggling veteran backup Nikolai Khabibulin, hurt making a save in the first period Saturday and placed on injured reserve Sunday.
“Could be a bit,” was Quenneville’s projected length of Khabibulin’s disablement.
Patrick Kane kept his points streak alive at seven straight games with an assist on Pirri’s goal. He has 10 points in that period.
“Kaner has the puck a lot lately,” Quenneville said. “Whether he’s scoring or not scoring, he’s generating a lot of high-quality chances around the net, shooting the puck very well. His offensive zone time with the puck has been very high. He’s got it going and he’s very dangerous.”