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The Chicago Blackhawks took to the United Center ice for the final time in 2023 as the red-hot Winnipeg Jets came to town, winners of eight of their last 10 games. The Blackhawks had to sit around their Christmas break stewing on blowing a 5-2 lead to the St. Louis Blues with less than 15 minutes to play. And that came less than 24 hours after giving up five unanswered goals in a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
“They’re firing on all cylinders,” Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said of the Jets. “They’re a good puck-moving team. They play with a lot of pace, so we’re going to have to try to match that and use the energy in this building that we’ve used at times. We’ve had strong games against really good teams. So, we’ve got to be on our toes and really expect one of the top teams in the West here tonight and be ready for them.”
The Jets had the jump early in the game, but thankfully, Petr Mrazek was up to the task. Winnipeg had the first eight shots of the game, but it was Connor Bedard who broke the scoreless tie late in the opening frame. After scoring the fancy “Michigan” goal last time out, he took a simpler route by following his own shot and scoring on the rebound. It was his 14th goal of the season and first on home ice since Nov. 4.
Morgan Barron scored his second goal in as many games against the Blackhawks to even things up early in the second period. It was a shot Mrazek should have had, but it’s hard to get angry, considering how many big saves he’d already made at that point.
The Blackhawks had to kill off a Jarred Tinordi tripping penalty with 2:56 left in regulation, and they were able to keep the Jets off the board to force overtime and earn a point. In the extra time, the NHL’s best rookie had another magic moment on his way to the Calder Trophy.
Jay: “F it…I’ll do it myself.” -Connor Bedard probably
Connor Bedard is a Chicago Blackhawk. I know you know this. I know I know this. Chicago knows this, as well, but do you ever catch yourself stopping to really think about it? “Connor Bedard is really a Chicago Blackhawk!”
“Generational Talent” is used far too often for what it’s supposed to mean, but in Bedard, it’s what the Blackhawks have. He is the third youngest NHL player EVER to win a regular season game in overtime. Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal are the other two. He has 15 goals in 34 games. Patrick Kane had 21 goals in 82 during his rookie season. Bedard has eight points in his last five games. He has a 10-point lead on Minnesota’s Marco Rossi in the rookie scoring race, and he’s doing with virtually zero help.
For Bedard to score two goals, including the overtime winner, in the first game after Christmas is meaningful. The Blackhawks had a massive crowd on hand for the win, and it’s safe to assume that hundreds of fans attended their “first Blackhawks game ever.”
They don’t care about the Blackhawks’ Corsi percentage. They don’t care about the Jets’ xGF. They came to see Connor Bedard dominate, and he did.
Greg, Mario, and I typically settle into our press box seats at least 90 minutes before puck drop. Tonight, young fans lined the glass with posters for Bedard 45 minutes before the Hawks were set to step on the ice for pregame warmups.
Bedard-mania in Chicago is real, and with every performance like Wednesday night, it grows larger and larger.
Greg: Blackhawks Don’t Show the Urgency We Hoped For
The Blackhawks don’t have an identity problem; they just have an identity that nobody wants. Their identity is a team that cannot string together consistent play. And it’s not just from game to game; it’s period to period. That was on full display over the last two games. First, they gave up five straight goals to Montreal after going up 2-0 early in the second period. Then, they coughed up a three-goal lead in the third period to the rival Blues.
“When you get momentum going, it’s hard to stop,” Richardson said. “Sometimes the world just closes in on you, and you stop moving your feet. You think you’re playing safe, but when you stop moving your feet against a team that’s got momentum and energy, then you have one team really skating and another team not.”
Saturday’s loss in St. Louis had to leave a bad taste in the Blackhawks’ mouth over the holiday break. They had a huge crowd waiting for them at the United Center tonight, and everyone was curious to see what their response would be.
The start was not great. The Jets got two shots on goal in the first 23 seconds. They had the first eight shots on goal and 12 shot attempts of the game. The Blackhawks’ first shot attempt didn’t come until 6:09, when Nikita Zaitsev’s shot went wide. Anthony Beauvillier didn’t get the first shot on net until 14:56. Despite being outshot 13-5 and drastically outplayed, the Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to the Bedard highlight-reel goal and a Herculean effort from netminder Petr Mrazek.
The Blackhawks gave up 29 shot attempts at 5v5 and had just 12 in the first period. The second period wasn’t much better, as the Jets held a 27-10 advantage in 5v5 shot attempts. The third period was the Blackhawks’ best, with 15 5v5 shot attempts for versus 17 allowed, with most of those Winnipeg chances coming late in the frame.
Yes, the talent gap between these two teams is quite large, but we’ve seen the Blackhawks beat superior teams this season. You’d like to think this team would have played with more urgency right from the opening draw. However, that is hard to do when you never have the puck.
Mario: No Alarm Clock Needed for Connor Bedard
he Blackhawks as a whole have had a hard time this season starting games on the right foot. But not for a lack of trying from Connor Bedard. With his first period goal tonight, it marked the 12th time Bedard had scored in the first period for Chicago this season out of his 15 total goals on the year. That’s impressive on its own, but when you factor in that he has already doubled the amount of last year’s leader for first period goals, it’s even more astounding.
Luke Richardson has harped on the team about not having good starts to games, or not having full efforts. While it’s great Bedard is doing all he can to give Richardson the starts he is looking for, it’s going to continue to be taxing on him if he is the only one doing so. We all knew that Bedard was going to carry this team this season, but the fact that he is the sole-driver of the offensive generation to start games is both a feather in his cap already as an NHL, and concerning for this Blackhawks squad.
You want to see more players getting off to the fast starts that Bedard is producing. If the team were to be able to contribute more of that first punch, that early game jump, the more often we’d be talking about efforts where the Blackhawks were in the game from start to finish and more winning habits being instilled in the team and the young players.
Or, we could all just bask in Connor Bedard’s magic for the rest of the season. Either way works for me.
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