A shorthanded Blue Jackets squad dropped a phycisal 3-2 decision at Chicago on Sunday evening. The Jackets were limited to just 18 players -- 16 skaters and two goalies, two skaters less than the normal numberÂ -- after a flu-like virus infected half the team's roster.
The Blue Jackets took an early 1-0 advantage at 14:04 of the first period when Trevor Letowski scored his first goal of the preseason, a power-play goal. Manny Malhotra took a pass from Nikolai Zherdev, who leads the team with four points, giving Malhotra and Letowski a two-on-one advantage with Letowski beating Nikolai Khabibulin to the stick side, giving the Jackets the early lead.
The Blackhawks' Kyle Calder scored goals with less than a minute remaining in the first period to tie the score.
Between the first and second periods the Blue Jackets were forced to make a goaltending change, when starter Pascal Leclaire fell ill with the same virus, giving way to rookie Tomas Popperle. Leclaire stopped 11-of-12 shots in the first period, continuing his strong training camp showing. Popperle, making his North American debut, stopped 18-of-20 shots and five-of-five shootout opportunities, including several athletic pad saves.
Calder netted his second goal of the evening, a power-play tally midway through the second period to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead. The Blue Jacketsâ€™ Steven Goertzen scored at 13:54 of the third period to tie the game at two. Ben Simon and Jody Shelley earned assists on the play, with Goertzen scoring on the rebound. Simon was the key to play, keeping the puck alive to the left of the Chicago goal, before he was finally able to poke it free from the scrum to Goertzen at the far post. Goertzen was one of the stars of the night for the Blue Jackets, playing a physical all-around game with several big hits and a couple of strong drives to the nets.
Calder played a role in the final goal for Chicago, assisting Rene Borque on the power-play for the game-winner just 55 seconds into the third period.
The Blue Jackets nearly tied the game on several occasions in the third period, including a wrist shot by Nikolai Zherdev midway through the stanzaÂ which beat Khabibulin clean, but rang off the post.
In the shootout exhibition following the game, the teams remained scoreless through four rounds before Mark Hartigan snapped a shot past Khabibulin and Popperle made sure it held up by turning aside Bourque.