RALEIGH, N.C. – That the Blackhawks were involved in a close game was nothing new.
This is typical for them, and has been for some time. For a good part of this season they’ve been winning these games. Lately, however, they’ve struggled. Coming off a come-from-behind victory in Nashville, the Blackhawks were looking to close out 2016 with a victory in Carolina.
Instead they made some early mistakes, couldn’t best a hot goaltender and could be down another player for a few weeks.
Michal Kempny scored his first career NHL goal and Vinnie Hinostroza scored his fourth of the season. But Carolina scored twice in 65 seconds and Cam Ward was stellar in the Hurricanes 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks on Friday night. The Blackhawks went 1-3-1 in their last five games of 2016. They still lead the Western Conference by one point over the Minnesota Wild, who are on a 12-game winning streak.
And then there’s Marcus Kruger, who could be out a few weeks with an upper-body injury sustained in the second period.
“He’s going to miss some time,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ll say week-to-week but we don’t know the extent [of the injury] right now.”
As for the game, it was an entertaining few opening minutes before the Blackhawks lapsed into a familiar first-period pattern of getting outshot (16-8) and falling behind (2-1). Carolina scored twice in 65 seconds, erasing the 1-0 lead Kempny gave them with his laser from the blue line.
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
“I liked the play we made on our goal and they made a couple of plays around our net,” Quenneville said of Carolina’s two quick goals, both coming on rebounds. “We were a little sloppy and we don’t give up those kind of goals.”
Toews, who finished with two points, said the Blackhawks have to stop their first-period trend.
“It’s something we have to just keep trying to hammer home, that we have to start trying to take over games right away,” he said. “Obviously we’re not going to win them in the first period but we have to come out flying and really try and send that message and try and play ahead for once and see how that works out for us.”
The Hurricanes were up 3-1 when a Jonathan Toews shot went off Hinostroza’s leg and past Ward. Despite sustained zone time late in the third period, the Blackhawks couldn’t get the equalizer.
“You never assume [you’ll come back]. You just want to keep playing and build off it,” Hinostroza said. “We had a couple of good looks after that and kept coming. Unfortunately, we didn’t score.”
The Blackhawks have once again played in a lot of close games this season. They’ve won a good deal of them but lately, the trend has gone in the wrong direction.
“We did some decent things tonight," Quenneville said. "The game against Colorado was a point, so every game’s different. Every game’s been close, like this, all year long. We’ve been fortunate to win some of these games that went like that. But all three goals [tonight] could have been prevented.”