After visiting the CN Tower in Toronto during their off-day yesterday, the Blackhawks took their game to new heights on Tuesday afternoon in their final matchup at the 2011 NHL Rookie Tournament in Oshawa, Ontario against the Pittsburgh Penguins' top prospects. The Blackhawks put in their best performance of the tournament, defeating the Penguins, 4-1, and earning their first victory.
Both teams came out knowing that this was their last chance to impress before the tournament wraps up and main camp begins. Players on both sides didn’t miss a chance to finish their checks, hitting everything in sight. The physical tone of this game was set right from the outset and featured two fights within the first seven minutes of the contest, with Shawn Lalonde and Rob Flick dropping the gloves early for Chicago.
Besides the physical play, goaltending was the story of the first period as Johan Mattsson, who started his second straight game of the tournament, and Penguins rookie Maxime Legace each made fantastic saves, ruining some great opportunities for both sides.
The 2nd period started off much the same as the first with with a fight between Jimmy Hayes and Penguins prospect Brandon DeFazio. The Blackhawks used that momentum to continue to press the Penguins as this past June’s top draft pick Mark McNeill was finally rewarded for his great effort at the tournament, beating Legace to give Chicago the 1-0 lead.
Chicago then ran into some penalty trouble, getting called on three straight minor penalties and giving the Penguins a two-man advantage for a full three minutes. After killing off the first penalty the Blackhawks caught a break as the Penguins took an interference penalty. Mac Carruth, who replaced Mattsson in net halfway through the 2nd, kept the Blackhawks' lead intact, making some key saves during the penalties.
The Hawks continued to battle hard and while the teams played some 4-on-4 hockey, Notre Dame alum Joe Lavin was able to feed former fourth-round pick Byron Froese in the slot, scoring five-hole on a quick release shot.
The recently-acquired David Toews continued his strong play when just a few minutes later he used a stretch pass to send 2011 draft pick Andrew Shaw in on a breakaway. With a Penguins player doing all he could do stop the Blackhawks forward, Shaw scored a beautiful goal while being hauled down from behind to give Chicago a 3-0 lead after two periods.
Phillip Danault continued his strong play and used his great speed to get behind the Penguins defenders in a race for the puck. The 2011 first-round pick then went in alone and beat Legace on a backhand shot to give Chicago the commanding lead. The Penguins were able to get one goal late by Keven Veilleux but it wasn’t enough and the Blackhawks earned the victory.
The prospects will now regroup and get set as many of them will join the Blackhawks' training camp, which gets underway later this week.