CHICAGO – After blowing an early two-goal lead against the New York Islanders, the Chicago Blackhawks buckled down and rode a one-goal lead to victory.
Michal Handzus scored the go-ahead goal 6:45 into the second period and the Chicago Blackhawks held on for a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Friday night.
Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and rookie Joakim Nordstrom connected in the first period, while Duncan Keith had two assists. Nordstrom’s goal was his first in the NHL.
In its previous two games, defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago wasn’t in buttoned-down form as it allowed Tampa Bay and St. Louis to score late in a shootout and a regulation loss.
It looked like more of the same was brewing Friday.
The Blackhawks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but New York’s Josh Bailey scored at 19:06 of the first period and Kyle Okposo scored 49 seconds later to it at 2-all.
“Against St. Louis and Tampa, there were a few points we left on the table,” Toews said. “Tonight could have been one of those nights where we fall into that trend of squeezing the stick a little bit too hard late in the game only up one goal.
“But we maintained our composure. We know what we’ve got to do to protect those leads and play smart late in games. We’ve improved on that.”
After Handzus restored Chicago’s lead in the second, the Blackhawks were poised and tidy, even if they couldn’t add to their advantage.
“We didn’t get that extra goal tonight, which made it close all the way to the end, but I still thought we did some good things,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “But I liked what we gave up, and that wasn’t much.”
Chicago’s Nikolai Khabibulin made 17 saves and New York’s Kevin Poulin finished with 25 as both goaltenders made their first starts this season.
The 40-year-old Khabibulin rejoined the Blackhawks last summer as a free agent to back up Corey Crawford. Evgeni Nabokov had started the Islanders’ first three contests.
Chicago had allowed five power-play goals in nine attempts entering the game, but killed both New York advantages on Friday.
The Islanders lost for the first time in regulation, and coach Jack Capuano wasn’t surprised based on his team’s effort.
“When you mismanage the puck against that team and you don’t make them play a 200-foot game, you’re never going to have success and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “Our execution level was down and we had some passengers tonight.”
The Blackhawks dominated the first period and took a 2-0 lead before the goals by Bailey and Okposo in the final minute of the frame evened it.
Set up by Niklas Hjalmarsson’s feed from behind the net, Nordstrom opened the scoring midway through the first period from just outside the crease to cap a Chicago flurry in the New York zone.
Toews made it 2-0 with 3:55 left in the period when Brent Seabrook’s shot from the right point bounced off the back boards and straight to Toews in the left circle. He fired into an open net before Poulin could recover.
Bailey wristed in a shot with 54 seconds left in the first to cut it to 2-1 after he corralled Michael Grabner’s drop pass in the right circle.
Okposo tied it at 2 with just 5 seconds remaining in the period on a backhand shot from a crowd in the slot. He was set up by John Tavares’ pinpoint pass from behind the net.
New York, however, didn’t capitalize on the momentum swing.
“We got a couple of big goals there to get us back in the game and we weren’t able to sustain that into the second period,” Tavares said. “We’ve got to keep on generating opportunities.”
Handzus put Chicago back ahead when he was left uncovered in in the slot and popped in a rebound of Duncan Keith’s shot from the point after the puck rolled off Poulin.
Both teams had a handful of chances in the third, including a couple of close-in attempts by Tavares.
NOTES: RW Cal Clutterbuck played his first game with the Islanders. He was acquired in an off-season trade from Minnesota, then sat out the first three games this season with a leg laceration. … Khabibulin was Chicago’s No. 1 goaltender for four seasons, from 2005-09. … The 21-year-old Nordstrom played in his fourth NHL game. … Both teams play again on Saturday night. The Blackhawks host Buffalo and the Islanders are at Nashville.