Following a disappointing 4–2 loss in their season opener at Colorado, the Chicago Blackhawks continued their three-game road trip on Friday at the Prudential Center against the New Jersey Devils, who were playing their first game of the 2021–22 campaign. During warmups, both teams honored the late Jimmy Hayes, who passed away in August at his home in Milton, Massachusetts. Every Blackhawks player wore a No. 39 Hayes sweater with his nickname, “Hayesy,” on the back, while New Jersey players wore No. 10 “Broadway” sweaters, representing another nickname for their former teammate.
It did not take long for Dougie Hamilton, the Devils’ big ticket free agent addition this past offseason, to win over his teammates and the hometown crowd, as he scored just 17 seconds into the game. A turnover by Jake McCabe just inside his own blue line, forced by Pavel Zacha, eventually would get to Hamilton in the slot, who knuckled one past Kevin Lankinen to give the Devils a quick 1–0 lead. At the end of one, the Blackhawks and Devils were even in the shots on goal column at six apiece.
With 1:55 of Blackhawks power play time carried over from the opening frame, Patrick Kane made a pinpoint goal-line feed to a wide open Alex DeBrincat, who buried his first of the young season past Devils goaltender Jonathan Bernier to tie the game at the 51-second mark. On the goal, Tyler Johnson picked up his first point in a Blackhawks uniform.
The Devils regained the lead at 2–1 late in the second period on a spin-o-rama backhand shot by budding superstar Jack Hughes from the left circle that beat a screened Lankinen with just over two minutes left in the frame. The Devils outshot the Blackhawks 13–11 in the second and had a two period advantage of 19–17.
At 6:34 into the third period, seconds after MacKenzie Entwistle nearly tied it but drew iron, Andreas Johnsson gave the Devils a 3–1 lead. Tomas Tatar fed rookie Dawson Mercer in the right circle, who shot the puck which trickled behind Lankinen, who lost track of it and Johnsson won a foot race to the net with Connor Murphy and tapped it in to give the home team a two-goal cushion. Save that puck for Mercer, as he notched his first career NHL point on the play.
The Hawks cut the deficit to 3–2 on a power play goal by Kirby Dach at 16:07 on a rebound from in front while Mercer was serving a double minor for high sticking and the Hawks’ cage was empty for an extra attacker.
Late in the third, with the desperate Blackhawks trying to get the equalizer, Seth Jones did a nice job keeping the puck in the Devils’ zone and found Brandon Hagel in the slot, who made a nice feed to Dominik Kubalik, who one-timed it past Bernier to tie the game at 3–3 with 25.5 seconds left in regulation.
The Hawks controlled the puck off the face-off, but could not get a shot off thanks to some solid defensive coverage by the Devils. A Kirby Dach pass from behind the net went awry and sent the Devils the other way on a 2-on-1 with Erik Gustafsson in between. Hughes skated around a sprawling Gustafsson and stick-handled Lankinen out of position to give himself a wide open net for the game-winner and his second of the game.
Analysis: The good, the bad and the ugly
The good: Seth Jones bounced back from a poor performance in the opener with a strong game. He played over 26 minutes and it felt like he never left the ice in the third period. His presence was felt all 200 feet and the hope is he can continue to build on his performance.
The bad: The so-called shutdown pair of Jake McCabe and Connor Murphy was anything but that. They were a combined -5 with the tone being set for their rough night just 17 seconds into the game with the McCabe turnover that led to the Devils’ first goal of the season.
The ugly: Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Erik Gustafsson, was completely fooled by Hughes on the game-winner.
Credit the Blackhawks for a strong comeback in the third from a two-goal deficit to tie the game and grab a point on the road, however, there are still major defensive issues to clean up.
The Hawks head to Pittsburgh for a game on Saturday against the Penguins at PPG Arena. Puck drop is at 6 p.m. CDT and will be broadcast on NHL Network, NBCSCH and on WGN 720.
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