The Blackhawks weren't in their usual rhythm or playing at their usual pace on Friday night. Injuries were to blame for some of that. So were the New York Islanders, who are fighting for a playoff spot.
But as the third period wore on the Blackhawks were looking like themselves again. And after a few extra minutes' worth they were pulling out another one.
Artemi Panarin scored his 20th goal of the season to tie it late in regulation and Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 32 as the Blackhawks came back to beat the Islanders 2-1 in a shootout on Friday night. The Blackhawks have now won 11 of their last 12, including six in a row, and are one point behind the Minnesota Wild.
Jonathan Toews notched the shootout winner for the Blackhawks, who were missing Artem Anisimov (lower body), Nick Schmaltz (illness), Johnny Oduya (ankle) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body). Now for the next three weeks they'll be without Scott Darling, who got hurt late in Friday morning's skate. A source said Darling suffered a hand injury.
The Blackhawks took a time out late in the third period, a period in which they dominated. After the Islanders boxed them out and blocked 20 shots through 40 minutes, the Blackhawks were finally getting inside. Still, Thomas Greiss was stellar, stopping 30 of 31 shots, including 14 of 15 in the third period. Panarin, however, finally got one through traffic with 1:14 remaining in regulation to tie it.
"No doubt that we have the guys to step up, make up for the loss of a few key players tonight," Toews said. "Collectively, the first 40 wasn't our best. I don't think we were playing with the speed and energy we have as of late. But we stay within one, we always know if we put some pressure on the end there's always a chance to stay in that game. Great goaltending, decent defensive play to keep us in that game as well."
Crawford looked very good in his first start since Feb. 23 – he had been ill at the end of last month. The only shot that eluded him was Brock Nelson's 2-on-1 break following the Blackhawks' second power play.
"Felt better and better as the game went on. The one goal, it was a squeaker. But I felt pretty sharp out there," Crawford said. "Thought we played well all game. We just kept playing hard, never gave up. Nice to see Bread Man get a big shot there."
Toews' shot claimed the shootout but Panarin also got one to seal it. As for his game-tying goal, Panarin looked as relieved as he did happy to get it.
"I think top players, they like scoring, making plays, getting production. But I still think there's production there between him and [Patrick Kane]. Whether he's scoring or not there's a threat and you still have to be aware of them on the ice. They have the puck a lot, present some cycle shifts that are tough to defend."
The Blackhawks were down a few players. They could get Anisimov and Schmaltz back on Saturday in Nashville. But they've gone through this all season and for the most part, they've found ways to keep getting points.
"You're not always going to be up in every game. It's not always going to go our way," Crawford said. "We have to battle back in some games and we showed some character tonight."