Blackhawks' 'statement loss' to Stars tightens Central Division race


Blackhawks' 'statement loss' to Stars tightens Central Division race

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.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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.”

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?