TAMPA — It was bound to end at some point.
The Blackhawks weren’t feeling pressure as they continued their winning streak, which reached a franchise-best 12 games on Tuesday. They were having fun adding to it. But when the Tampa Bay Lightning thwarted the Blackhawks at every opportunity on Thursday, the fun ended.
Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 33 shots, but he had, by far, the Blackhawks’ best performance in their 2-1 loss to the Lightning at Amalie Arena. The loss snapped the Blackhawks’ winning streak at 12. The Lightning, meanwhile, won their seventh consecutive game.
The Blackhawks will remain in first place in the Central Division, three points ahead of Dallas, which beat Edmonton, 3-2, on Thursday.
It wasn’t so much the loss that was disappointing — again, it was going to happen at some point. But after Artem Anisimov’s backhand gave them the lead just 43 seconds into the game, the Blackhawks didn’t put up much of a fight. They finished with just 18 shots, a season low.
“Tonight they were definitely the better team,” coach Joel Quenneville said of the Lightning. “We didn’t generate much, didn’t get much traffic or pucks to the net, didn’t get the offensive zone time we liked. We got a few shifts, but they were few and far between.”
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The Blackhawks were also doing a bit of line juggling. With Richard Panik benched after he overslept morning skate, Rob Scuderi played wing on the Blackhawks’ fourth line. Patrick Kane played a few shifts there, too.
But regardless of the line, the Blackhawks just couldn’t get much going. It took them until the third period to hit double digits on the shot count. The Lightning, meanwhile, got plenty — and good quality — shots on Crawford, who was stellar once again.
“Crow was our best player today again. At least he gave us a chance to tie the game up,” said Niklas Hjalmarsson, who wasn’t sure why the Blackhawks were so flat. “It’s tough to say. I think we maybe didn’t have our best game out there today. We knew it was going to be a tough game. They’re one of the better ... it’s their seventh (victory) in the row. It’s just a pretty rough game. Could’ve been more goals for them.”
Anton Stralman redirected Victor Hedman’s shot to tie it 1-1 about seven minutes into the first. The Blackhawks killed off two minors, including a Kane high-sticking, midway through the second period. But as Kane’s high-sticking penalty ended and he stepped out of the box to play the puck, he was whistled for interference.
That interference fell under Rule 56.2, which states:
A minor penalty shall be imposed on any identifiable player on the players' bench or penalty bench who, by means of his stick or his body, interferes with the movements of the puck or any opponent on the ice during the progress of the play. In addition, should a player about to come onto the ice, play the puck while one or both skates are still on the players' or penalty bench, a minor penalty for interference shall be assessed.
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And the Lightning would capitalize on that power play, with Kucherov scoring his 20th of the season with nine seconds remaining on the advantage.
“Yeah, I’ve been around a long time. For the number of games I’ve seen, I’ve seen one other time it happened,” Quenneville said of the obscure infraction. “I think a lot of people didn’t know the rule.”
The Blackhawks knew it was going to end at some point. They would’ve liked a better all-around performance, even if it resulted in a loss, but they’ll have a quick turnaround and face the Florida Panthers on Friday night. Jiri Sekac, who was acquired on Thursday morning from the Anaheim Ducks, is “likely” to play in that game, according to Quenneville.
The winning streak is over. But it was a heck of a ride, and it changed the complexion for the Blackhawks in the Central Division.
“Yeah, it was definitely a turning point for our season,” Crawford said. “We’re feeling good chemistry throughout the lines. It was definitely important to get on that streak and move up the standings.”