Tracey Myers

Five takeaways from Blackhawks 3-2 loss to Predators: Solid outing for Anton Forsberg

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks 3-2 loss to Predators: Solid outing for Anton Forsberg

The Blackhawks have played well as of late but against the Nashville Predators, you better be close to perfect. They weren’t, so they left sans two points. Still, it wasn’t a bad outing.

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss on Tuesday night:

1. Second-period swing.

The first period wasn’t a bad one for the Blackhawks. But Duncan Keith took an unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of it, and while the Predators didn’t score on the power play that opened the second period they swung momentum their way. The Predators outplayed the Blackhawks and took a 2-1 lead.

2. Tough night for Panik.

Much like some of his teammates, Richard Panik has dealt with a scoring slump. While other teammates have broken out of their doldrums, Panik is still struggling. He looked to be fighting the puck that much more on Tuesday.

3. Solid outing for Anton Forsberg.

You can debate who should’ve started which back-to-back game. Coach Joel Quenneville opted for Corey Crawford against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday before starting Forsberg against the Predators.

Despite the Blackhawks loss, it’s hard to hang this on Forsberg. He had a good performance, stopping 28 of 31. Said Quenneville, “tough one at the end, hitting off us (Roman Josi’s goal going off Brent Seabrook’s stick), and it was a big goal. But he made some key saves all alone on broken plays, made some key saves to give us a chance to stay in the game.”

4. Pekka Rinne vs. Patrick Kane.

The Predators goaltender got the edge in this matchup. Kane had some outstanding chances against Rinne, especially early when Rinne stopped Kane on successive opportunities. Rinne would stop 37 of 39 in the victory.

5. Fourth line chances.

Lance Bouma brought the Blackhawks within one goal midway through the third period. Tommy Wingels, who had the team’s opening goal, had a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds. The trio of Bouma, Wingels and John Hayden has been solid and has brought a little offense, and was rewarded with late play. Said Bouma, “we were feeling it tonight. A couple of great chances. It was nice to get out there to try and get more.”

Blackhawks continue trending in right direction, but can't complete comeback vs. Predators

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Blackhawks continue trending in right direction, but can't complete comeback vs. Predators

For the Blackhawks on Tuesday, it was a mix. A good start, a so-so middle and not enough at the end. Against a red-hot Nashville Predators team and on the second half of a back-to-back, the Blackhawks could take some good out of their 3-2 loss.

Some.

“For the most part we played a pretty good road game. That being said the only thing that matters is the two points,” Tommy Wingels said. “While we’re happy with some aspects, we didn’t come away with the two points.”

Considering some of their squandered opportunities earlier this season, the Blackhawks are certainly looking for two points every chance they can get them. But Tuesday’s game wasn’t some lopsided mess. It wasn’t the dismal failure of last April. It was a close game in which Pekka Rinne stymied the Blackhawks just enough (especially Patrick Kane early).

Not that some issues couldn’t have been avoided. The Blackhawks went through their second-period swoon again and by the start of the third period they were down 3-1 to a Predators team that was 8-1-1 at Bridgestone Arena entering Tuesday’s game. The Blackhawks know from history, especially recent history, that the Predators will take advantage of any hiccup.

“Great start, second period we slowed down a bit and tried to come back being down two,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had a couple of looks there at the end but they’re a good hockey team. You can’t have a lull in the game and you gotta keep the pace up.”

Anton Forsberg had a solid outing, stopping 28 of 31 in the loss. He was beaten cleanly early (Filip Forsberg’s game-opening goal). Austin Watson’s go-ahead 2-1 goal got another look when Quenneville challenged for goaltender interference, but officials ruled it was incidental contact.

“I didn’t understand how it went in, because it was going wide. I reached my arm over there. I asked the ref afterward and he said that my arm was outside and if it had been inside and he would’ve had contact with me, it would be no goal,” Forsberg said. “But my arm was outside. That’s what happened.”

Roman Josi’s game winner went off Brent Seabrook’s stick and past Forsberg.

The Blackhawks have been playing a lot better as of late. They’re producing again. They’re getting solid goaltending. They’re doing a lot of things right. But as they were reminded on Tuesday, having lulls against a surging team can still be costly.

“I think we got away from our game a little bit in the second period. They outshot us, out chanced us. For whatever reason we were on our heels but other than that it was a good effort,” Wingels said. “It’s a tough team, a tough building to play in. We wish we would’ve done better.”

Cat with the hat: Alex DeBrincat's latest trick fuels high-scoring Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Cat with the hat: Alex DeBrincat's latest trick fuels high-scoring Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp has been highly complementary of Alex DeBrincat since the 19-year-old started camp with the Blackhawks in September. But on DeBrincat’s biggest night as a pro, the night he celebrated his first NHL hat trick, Sharp nevertheless had to give the kid some grief.

“It was awesome. Only problem is he had that mustache for it,” Sharp deadpanned. “So he’s gonna be on TV a lot with that ugly mustache.”

All Movember-motivated facial hair aside, DeBrincat has developed his game just fine with the Blackhawks. He’s improving his defense with every game. He’s flipped from the left to the right side without missing the beat. And this month DeBrincat has tapped into the offensive potential that was on full display during his Erie Otters days, celebrating that hat trick in the Blackhawks’ 7-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night. DeBrincat now has nine of his 10 goals in November.

“Special night for him,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He finds the net, he sees pucks, gets himself available, the puck follows him around, he has a great stick, his anticipation is high end, play recognition, special player. Nice.”

DeBrincat had a huge smile on his face as United Center spectators threw hats onto the ice. After the game he was a little more subdued.

“It was nice. Pucks were bouncing my way, and it’s cool to get that over with,” he said. “I think today the puck luck was there for me and for a lot of the guys. So I thought that was a big reason I had those chances.”

Maybe, but DeBrincat was already a proven goal scorer at the OHL level. It was just a matter of time before the Blackhawks found out if he could do the same in the NHL. So far, so good.

“He’s a great player,” Sharp said. “You could tell that in training camp, whenever he got the puck he just has poise with it and he’s looking to make a play. I said earlier that he was playing like he’s in junior hockey still, and that’s a compliment. Because he’s looking to make those plays, he’s not intimidated at all by the speed or the pace of the game, and you can see the results.”

Patrick Kane recorded three assists, his second the feed that led to DeBrincat’s third goal. Sharp broke out of his slump. So did Ryan Hartman, with two assists. So did Nick Schmaltz. The Blackhawks got off to another strong start and didn’t look back, the goals that were so elusive a few weeks ago now coming in bunches.

“I mean, in those games we were just one play away. Pucks were rolling on us. Sometimes they don’t go in for you, and other nights everything goes in,” Schmaltz said “You have to stick with it, can’t get too high or too low. It’s a long season, so you just have to bring the same mindset every night.”

The Blackhawks’ tests don’t end. They’re just starting a busy week that continues Tuesday night in Nashville. But the confidence is surging. So is the offense. So is DeBrincat.

“He’s a great kid. He’s doing well for us, and he’s playing a big role,” Schmaltz said. “He’s a goal scorer. It’s fun to watch. The guy just finds a way to put the puck in the net and not a lot of guys can do that, especially at this level. Hopefully he keeps that up and he’ll help our team succeed.”