No, the murmur of boos throughout the United Center on Tuesday night was not some cloying phonetic salute to Nikolai Khabibulin. These were simply boos, outright voicing of displeasure, and they only bled into a cascade of happy cheers when the veteran netminder skated to the bench.
Five days earlier, the Blackhawks’ backup goalie was strafed for six goals. Five days later, Khabibulin got back in the mix to erase the bad memories, and instead wound up looking like a guy with post-traumatic stress issues.
Only Jonathan Toews being there for consolation with a third career regular-season hat trick permitted a 6-5 victory over the Senators, with a second straight night of four unanswered scores continuing the good vibes
“It has been a while, so it felt pretty good,” Toews said of the hat trick. “It’s an exciting thing, it definitely builds your confidence a little bit and hopefully I can ride that out and keep playing well because of it.”
A thorough takedown of the Wild on Monday was affirming. Khabibulin on Tuesday was concerning. Another four goals allowed, including three second-period tallies on which he arguably, if not definitely, had a chance. Thus emerged a two-score deficit by the time Corey Crawford made his way into the game in relief.
“Tough game,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Khabibulin. “I just liked how we responded. We hung in there. … Scoring early certainly put us in a good spot. But we have to be better than that.”
The hat trick was Toews’ first since Nov. 17, 2010 visiting the Oilers and his four points were his best single-game total this season. He assisted on one score and then posted three straight goals, all thanks to willingness and dirty work around the net, to resuscitate the Hawks and maintain momentum.
The start was a continuation of a surge. The Hawks’ power play produced a score for a sixth straight game to inject life into the United Center. It took nine seconds after a faceoff for Patrick Sharp’s shot to deflect off Andrew Shaw and in for a 1-0 lead.
Khabibulin gave that back with a minute left in the first, and then Toews began cleaning up the veteran goalie’s various messes. The Senators jumped ahead 2-1 on a power play in the second, and Toews found Marian Hossa for a tying score 50 seconds later.
Then came two more wince-inducing Senators scores: A Joe Corvo blue-line blast that sailed in untouched, and a weak Mika Zibanejad score from the crease. Then came two rousing goals from Toews: A wraparound off a rebound late in the second, and then a finish of a Johnny Oduya feed as he crashed the net early in the third to make it 4-4.
“The goals we gave up, they were just point-blank chances,” Toews said. “Unfair to blame out goaltender. We have to improve and I think we did as the game went on.”
Toews’ go-ahead goal was scored, again, from point-blank range, with the captain banging home a rebound with a little less than 11 minutes to play.
Shaw’s score off a rebound made it 6-4 with less than six minutes left — a necessary insurance goal as it turned out — with the offensive onslaught dimming for a bit the concern over why it was needed in the first place.
“It was a special performance,” Quenneville said of Toews. “As a fan you’re going to remember that game. That was a ‘wow’ game when you watch what he did tonight. It was a pretty amazing performance.”