TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Going into the final game of round-robin play, the Blackhawks were mathematically eliminated from having a chance at the first place game in the 2019 NHL Prospect Tournament. The third place game was the best they could've done, and they appeared to be heading in that direction.
But the Blackhawks squandered a 2-0 lead to fall to the St. Louis Blues 4-2 and the Detroit Red Wings rallied from 4-2 down to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-4, putting the Blackhawks in a position where they will play for seventh place against the Minnesota Wild at 11 a.m. CT on Tuesday.
Here are three takeaways and some observations from the loss:
1. Blackhawks surrender four unanswered goals
After giving up six goals to the Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Blackhawks really tightened up on defense on Monday against the Blues. At least to start. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and gave up only 10 shots on goal in the first two periods combined. But in the third period, it was all St. Louis.
The Blues outshot the Blackhawks 15-2 in the final 20 minutes and scored four unanswered goals, three of which came in the third period — one of them was an empty-netter. The Blackhawks offense dried up and had no answer for the Blues’ pushback.
"First period I thought we managed the puck well, we were winning the lines and then I don't know if we were just getting tired or the brain shut off and we thought we were gonna win the hockey game playing one period," Rockford IceHogs coach Derek King said. "St. Louis was coming hard. They just simplified their game and gots puck out, got pucks in and managed the puck better than we did."
2. No Adam Boqvist or Kirby Dach
With four games in five days, the Blackhawks held out top prospects Boqvist and Dach on Monday for rest. Training camp starts on Friday and because the first-place game was already out of reach, the team didn’t feel the need to play them.
“I wish we had them today,” King said with a smile. “But it’s good for them to sit out and watch.”
King said he expects both of them to play on Tuesday, but wouldn’t say for sure.
3. Brandon Hagel and Mikael Hakkarainen step up as possession drivers
Because Boqvist and Dach were both healthy scratches, the Blackhawks had to look for their offensive production elsewhere. Hagel and Hakkarainen were two players that took control in that department.
Hagel led the team with four shots on goal and served as the possession driver for the first line. But he may have run out of gas in the third period.
"He complements players,” King said. “It doesn't matter who he plays with, he plays the same way. I think he looked a little tired at the end of the game. He plays a lot, he plays hard minutes. It's not like he paces himself out there, which is a good thing, and I think he just got a little tired at the end. He got caught out a couple times with long shifts and they're hard to recover but I like the way he plays. He's a good hockey player and I like the way he works."
Hakkarainen finished with a goal, assist, +1 rating and three shots on goal. He played in a lot of different situations, including the first penalty kill unit and second power play unit.
"Yeah, I like opportunities,” Hakkarainen said. “I'm probably not the most skilled guy out there but I just work hard and see where it takes me."
— With Boqvist out, 2019 seventh-round pick Cole Moberg played on the top pairing with Dennis Gilbert and he held his own. He recorded a primary assist on Hakkarainen’s redirect goal and led the team with a +2 rating.
— Free-agent forward Sean Josling didn’t appear on the scoresheet but he’s a competitor. He’s someone who battles for position in front of the net, and he had some opportunities on both the power play and penalty kill.
— MacKenzie Entwistle was promoted to the first line in place of Dach and he wasn’t as effective. He’s better suited in a bottom-six role and playing that shutdown center role, not someone who will drive offense.