For the first time since Jan. 17, the Blackhawks lost by more than a goal after falling to the Carolina Hurricanes 5-3 on Friday at PNC Arena. It was also just their third regulation loss over that 16-game span (9-3-4).
The Hurricanes are one of the NHL's top possession teams and they flexed their muscles against the Blackhawks, who fought back from a 2-0 deficit but couldn't capitalize on that momentum in the third period.
"They were just all over us," said Ian Mitchell, who tied the game at 2-2 with 10.5 seconds left in the middle frame. "Pressure-wise, they play man-on-man all over the ice, so anytime you're looking for an outlet, there’s a guy right on him. It made it really tough to break out pucks and get O-zone time. That was something we struggled with today and it showed. They were definitely better than us tonight."
At even strength, the game was fairly even from a statistical standpoint; the shots on goal were 25-25 and high-danger chances were 9-9, according to Natural Stat Trick.
But the Hurricanes dictated the terms for a majority of the game and won the special teams battle after recording 16 shot attempts (11 on goal) and generating six scoring chances in 4:38 of power-play time, cashing in twice on the man advantage.
"It was a big challenge, they’re a really good team," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "They were probably a bit better than us over the first two periods but I thought we hung in there and showed some resiliency to stay in the game and gave ourselves a chance to make a couple plays to be in a tie game. And then I thought the third period we just didn't quite reach their level."
The Hurricanes play a high-pressure system and they're one of the best in the league at perfecting it. The Blackhawks feel comfortable about their structure and team game, but there are certainly parts of Carolina's style that they'd like to implement into their own.
"That’s a team we can learn from," said Patrick Kane, who registered a goal and two assists. "We’re trying to ingrain in our culture here where we bring that work ethic, that battle level every night and that’s just a team that does that every night. They’re not an easy team to play against. You learn from those things. Be a good hard-working team away from the puck. When you’re in a puck battle, win the puck battle and come out with it. It’s going to make the game easier. They play in your face all night and it’s a tough team to play against."
The Blackhawks were originally scheduled to play the Hurricanes in the second of a back-to-back on Saturday but that game has been rescheduled for a later date because of the Dallas and Tampa Bay postponements. They'll have three days to sit on this performance before trying to respond Tuesday in Columbus, but don't expect the Blackhawks to dwell on the loss too much and lose sight of how much progress they've made to this point.
"We can do both," Colliton said. "We can recognize and talk about the areas we've got to be better. We do lots of talking about the things that make us good and we’ll keep reminding them of how good we can be when we’re on and when we’re sharp and when we've got the work ethic, the skating that makes us a hard team to play against.
"Tonight, a lot of talk about how they’re hard to play against, but we can do that, too. So, that’ll be the focus over the next few days and we’ll come out real strong against Columbus."