The in-game video montages honored former Blackhawks Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, likely stirring emotions for both.
But the Dallas Stars player who got the best of the Blackhawks on Thursday night wasn’t one of their former teammates.
Patrick Eaves recorded a first-period hat trick and the Blackhawks’ third-period comeback attempt wasn’t enough as the Stars beat the Blackhawks, 4-2, at the United Center.
The Blackhawks’ second straight loss thickens the Central Division plot. While the Blackhawks remain atop the division, the Stars now trail them by just one point. The Stars also have three games in hand.
Corey Crawford was pulled after allowing four goals on 18 first-period shots. Scott Darling stopped 14 second- and third-period shots in relief. Patrick Kane scored his 33rd goal of the season and Duncan Keith added his eighth. Kari Lehtonen was strong, especially in the third period when the Stars needed him to be. He stopped 44 shots, including 19 of 21 in the third.
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Last Friday, the Blackhawks recorded what some players called a “statement” victory over the Stars in Dallas. Thursday, on the other hand…
“Well, that was a statement loss if that’s the case,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a terrible, brutal, brutal first period. We kind of stopped the bleeding in the second, good third. They scored early and it was like we had Ringette sticks tonight. No blade on our sticks.”
The Stars, meanwhile, looked tremendous from the start. They were tenacious, they won puck battles and they took advantage of the Blackhawks’ sloppy play. Eaves’ first goal was an even-strength, seeing-eye shot from an odd angle just 3:19 in the game. The Stars also scored on both of their first-period power plays. Eaves scored on both advantages, his hat-trick goal came just four seconds into the Stars’ second power play.
“We were wide open, giving them chances early. As we saw they don’t miss too often,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously they’ve got some firepower, their power play got them going. We get down 4-0, I think we were just kind of in a funk there, and it took us a while to really push ourselves to get out of it. So we started playing with a little confidence in the third and got on the score sheet, but as you saw, it was a little too late when it comes down to it.”
The Blackhawks put up a fight in the third period, firing 21 shots on Lehtonen. Keith’s goal came just 32 seconds into the third and Kane added his about eight minutes into it. But Lehtonen stopped all other threats.
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The Blackhawks were missing Artemi Panarin for the second consecutive game. Certainly that hurt them on offense – “anytime you’re missing one of your top players, it’s going to have an effect on everyone so hopefully he gets better soon,” Kane said. But Panarin’s absence wasn’t a good reason for what the Blackhawks allowed on the other end.
“We can’t give up the quality or quantity of chances to a team you know can score and attacks well,” Quenneville said. “They’re ready, it’s an important game and you come out like that. That was tough.”
The Blackhawks have been great at home this season but it’s where they’ve suffered their last two defeats. It’s not a situation over which they’ll panic, but they certainly need to be better. And they have to be better, and make the right statement, from the start next time.
“I think we expected that [the Stars] were going to come out hard, given the fact that they had a rough game and didn’t play their best against us last time we were in their building,” Toews said. “I guess we just weren’t prepared to respond to that.”