CHICAGO – Joel Quenneville looked and sounded like a guy who'd just gotten out of the way of a speeding bus.
For a couple of reasons, his Chicago Blackhawks were fortunate to come away with a 5-3 win against the visiting Dallas Stars on Wednesday night at the United Center.
The main reason was the Hawks continuing a trend of squandering big leads and making games closer than they should be. This time, leading 4-1 midway through the second period, Chicago gave up back-to-back goals to Brandon Segal and Loui Eriksson to make it tight in the third period.
Patrick Sharp's empty-netter with a second left on a power play provided the final margin, but it was a much closer game than that for the first 19:58 of the third.
"It seems like it's a trend that we have and it's been going on here for at least a year or two, that we get up there by three or four and it seems like we lose our concentration on what got us successful or put us in a good spot," said Quenneville, who called a timeout immediately following Eriksson's 11th goal of the season.
"We all think we want to score, and we get ahead of ourselves and we don't do the things that earn us the pucks and we give up stuff. I thought we were better in the third when we had to be, (but) it was still a dangerous game."
Enough to cause a heated debate about a play made by Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook with just eight seconds left in the game and Chicago clinging to a 4-3 lead. Seabrook went to the ice during a Dallas rush and appeared to throw his stick at the feet of Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. No penalty or penalty shot was called, which upset Dallas coach Marc Crawford – who protested loudly after the game. Crawford was also upset the Stars were whistled for six minor penalties to Chicago's one.
"We've got to stay out of the box," said Stars forward James Neal, who scored his 11th goal of the season to get the Stars on the board 1:56 into the second period. "We did a great job of battling back, and (Stars goalie Andrew Raycroft) played good between the pipes. It’s a tough one."
Meanwhile, when asked about the controversial play at the end Seabrook said it probably could have gone either way.
"I was sort of flat-footed and caught an edge," he said. "The stick just came out when I hit the ice and I think the ref realized that. It could have been a penalty. It would have been a tough one."
Especially if the Stars had tied the game on a penalty shot so late – which gets back to what Quenneville was talking about. The Hawks, playing without injured forwards Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Fernando Pisani, have made a habit of putting the cruise control on too early.
"There was a span there where … when your team's up 4-,1 you've got to find a way to make a couple saves to keep the score that way," said Hawks rookie goalie Corey Crawford, who extended his personal winning streak to seven games and improved to 8-4-0 by stopping 28 of 31 shots. "I don't know what happened there, but we were able to stay with it and shut them down in the third."
What happened was Segal and Eriksson caught the Hawks napping with goals just 1:05 apart to make it 4-3 Chicago near the end of the second. Segal's at 16:06 was unassisted. He collected a loose puck at the point in the Hawks zone, wheeled and fired a shot from long range that Crawford never saw.
The puck went into the upper left corner of the goal to make it 4-2.
Eriksson's 11th goal of the season then cut it 4-3 at 17:11 of the second. Brad Richards, who finished with two assists, fed a pass from the left side through the crease that slipped under Crawford's pad to hit the tape of Eriksson’s stick for a tap-in.
That prompted Quenneville to use his timeout, during which the Hawks got an earful.
"A lot of guys weren't happy and especially our coaching staff," Sharp said of the timeout. "We've done that far too many times this year with letting teams back in the game. I don't want to say we blew it, but I'll say it. Our power play blew it in the second period with a few opportunities. It could have been a 5-1 lead on the scoreboard."
Turns out that Sharp's late goal was technically a power-play goal after Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas was called for hooking at 18:44 of the third. It was Sharp's 17th goal and 30th point of the season.
Also scoring for Chicago were Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews, Jeremy Morin and Troy Brouwer. Morin's goal was the first of his NHL career and his second point in six games played with the Blackhawks.
"It's something that I'll never get again and it was exciting," Morin said of his first goal in the League. "I tried to enjoy it and I enjoyed it a little more with the (win)."
Raycroft got an unexpected start in goal for Dallas after starter Kari Lehtonen was scratched with "tightness" in his lower body following the morning skate.
The Hawks got out to an early 2-0 lead in the first thanks to goals by Bickell and Toews. Then the teams combined for three goals within 45 seconds early in the second to make it 4-1 Hawks.
Bickell added an assist to be one of four Chicago players to have two-point games -- with Toews, Duncan Keith (2 assists) and Dave Bolland (2 assists) the others.
Dallas also took issue with Toews' goal at 13:33 of the first, after he flipped a wrist shot toward the net – where Hawks forward Jack Skille was tangled up with a Dallas defenseman in the blue paint.
The goal was protested by Raycroft and Marc Crawford to no avail.
It was also the return to Chicago for popular former Hawks forward Adam Burish – who'd been looking forward to playing against his old friends that he won a Stanley Cup with last season.
"It was just weird," said Burish, who blocked two shots and put one shot on goal in 14:27. "I don't know how to explain it, but it was fun. One time we had a good shift and I told Seabrook and Keith, 'Don't you have a better D-pairing to put out against us than those two guys? Find somebody else.' They were struggling against us. They didn't laugh. I don't think they liked it."