The Chicago Blackhawks returned home after a five-game road trip and hosted the Vancouver Canucks for their first game at the United Center since March 14. The Canucks put a damper on Pride Night by beating the Blackhawks 4-2 to hand them their fifth straight loss.
The Blackhawks had to kill off two late first-period penalties but were able to do so and score the game’s opening goal in the process. Just seconds into the first kill, Connor Murphy celebrated his 30th birthday by getting a shot through traffic and behind Collin Delia for his sixth goal of the season.
These two former heated rivals appeared headed into the second intermission with the home team up a goal. That was until Phillip Di Giuseppe’s centering pass hit Seth Jones’ skate and went into the Blackhawks’ net to tie the game with 17 seconds left in the frame.
The Blackhawks came out buzzing in the third period and had two power plays in the first six minutes but could not score the go-ahead goal. Vancouver took a 2-1 lead with less than eight minutes to play. Dakota Joshua leveled Lukas Reichel along the boards and took him off the puck. While MacKenzie Entwistle skated in the face of Joshua, looking for a fight, Ethan Bear set up Elias Pettersson for the game-winning goal. While you can appreciate Entwistle for sticking up for his teammate, you must have better awareness than that. Pettersson added an insurance goal just over a minute later with a power-play tally.
Jones added a with 1:42 to play while Petr Mrazek was on the bench for an extra attacker, but it was too little too late as Brock Boeser answered with an empty-net goal to ice the game.
Jay’s Hit: Is Jonathan Toews Nearing a Return?
Jonathan Toews, who has been out since January 28 due to complications from dealing long COVID-19 and chronic immune response syndrome, might be nearing a return. The Captain had been skating on his own when the Blackhawks were on their road trip, and has been on the ice both Saturday and Sunday of this weekend.
“[Toews] seemed good and felt good, so hopefully that can progress into joining the team,” head coach Luke Richardson said before Sunday’s loss to Vancouver. “I think just by his mannerism today, that, to me, is a good sign, because I know he can get frustrated and, as you guys know from the past, he gets pretty direct. Today he was good.”
I do think it’s a bit premature to get excited. The Blackhawks only have nine games left and Toews is yet to practice with the team, but the fact that he’s on the ice back-to-back days can only be seen as a positive.
“Unfortunately we don’t practice tomorrow or later in the week,” Richardson added on Sunday. “It might be more toward the end of the week, but we’ll see where he’s at. Maybe he even gets out for a morning skate soon.”
With retirement rumors swirling around Toews, it would be incredibly meaningful to Blackhawks fans to give him a proper send-off, just in case. I’m sure it would be meaningful to Toews, as well.
Mario’s Hit: Lukas Reichel is going to be an impact NHL player in the near-future
We were treated to another performance tonight where Lukas Reichel continues to show that he is ready to make the jump to the NHL full-time. His development path from draft night in 2020, to the AHL, to his most recent call-ups to the NHL show the progressions he’s made to becoming a future impact player with the Blackhawks.
He was credited with a late goal tonight and could have had two in the third period finishing with one goal on five shots on goal in 17:43 minutes tonight. He also finished the game with a 0.35 individual expected goals rating and four individual scoring chances created tonight, second-best among all Blackhawks in the game.
It’s going to be a lot of fun watching him continue to develop and mature and get his first full NHL season next year.
All this said, there are still lessons to be learned for Reichel and teaching moments to be had. In tonight’s game, Reichel was leveled by Dakota Joshua on a play that didn’t have to happen after Reichel missed an opportunity to make a simpler play to get the puck out of the neutral zone. It didn’t happen and he took a hard hit for his troubles. That’s something that he’ll have to learn and adjust to as he gets more NHL games under his belt. The speed of the game and the speed in which he needs to make decisions.
But, there’s still way more positives out-weighing the negatives for him now, which is what you want to see from him.
Greg’s Hit: Pride Night Missing the Chef’s Kiss
We spoke at length earlier this week about the Blackhawks’ decision not to wear their Pride Night jerseys during warmup as initially planned. The decision was disappointing, and the lack of communication on the reasoning was very frustrating.
Before the game, head coach Luke Richardson said he appreciated being part of Pride Night.
“I think it’s important, and I think it’s going to be some great events all through the building tonight,” he said. “I know that the whole organization’s committed 365 days a year, not just today, so I think that’s the biggest message that we want to show the community’s support, and hopefully they feel welcomed, just like anybody else here today and any other day.”
The United Center’s atrium was decked out for the occasion with rainbows as far as the eye could see. The “Glamboni” was out for show, and there were plenty of spots to take a bright and colorful picture.
The Blackhawks Store was stocked with Pride Night shirts and hoodies, one of which I bought, with part of the proceeds going to local LGBTQIA+ organizations. Additionally, the atrium had LGBTQIA+-owned small businesses featured, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus performed before the game started.
Other in-game festivities included a nice welcoming message on the video board from Richardson and Murphy during the first television timeout. The Chicago Gay Hockey Association had a skills competition during the first intermission, and the in-game entertainment had a Pride theme throughout the night.
Overall, Pride Night was a success. The welcoming atmosphere and the visibility were precisely what I hoped for. However, the missing pregame jerseys and the silence about their absence made the night feel like a big part was missing. Hopefully, by the time next season rolls around, the entire NHL will get its act together and follows through on the “hockey is for everyone” mantra.