Blackhawks' 'statement loss' to Stars tightens Central Division race


Blackhawks' 'statement loss' to Stars tightens Central Division race

The in-game video montages honored former Blackhawks Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, likely stirring emotions for both.

But the Dallas Stars player who got the best of the Blackhawks on Thursday night wasn’t one of their former teammates.

Patrick Eaves recorded a first-period hat trick and the Blackhawks’ third-period comeback attempt wasn’t enough as the Stars beat the Blackhawks, 4-2, at the United Center.

The Blackhawks’ second straight loss thickens the Central Division plot. While the Blackhawks remain atop the division, the Stars now trail them by just one point. The Stars also have three games in hand.

Corey Crawford was pulled after allowing four goals on 18 first-period shots. Scott Darling stopped 14 second- and third-period shots in relief. Patrick Kane scored his 33rd goal of the season and Duncan Keith added his eighth. Kari Lehtonen was strong, especially in the third period when the Stars needed him to be. He stopped 44 shots, including 19 of 21 in the third.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Last Friday, the Blackhawks recorded what some players called a “statement” victory over the Stars in Dallas. Thursday, on the other hand…

“Well, that was a statement loss if that’s the case,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a terrible, brutal, brutal first period. We kind of stopped the bleeding in the second, good third. They scored early and it was like we had Ringette sticks tonight. No blade on our sticks.”

The Stars, meanwhile, looked tremendous from the start. They were tenacious, they won puck battles and they took advantage of the Blackhawks’ sloppy play. Eaves’ first goal was an even-strength, seeing-eye shot from an odd angle just 3:19 in the game. The Stars also scored on both of their first-period power plays. Eaves scored on both advantages, his hat-trick goal came just four seconds into the Stars’ second power play.

“We were wide open, giving them chances early. As we saw they don’t miss too often,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously they’ve got some firepower, their power play got them going. We get down 4-0, I think we were just kind of in a funk there, and it took us a while to really push ourselves to get out of it. So we started playing with a little confidence in the third and got on the score sheet, but as you saw, it was a little too late when it comes down to it.”

The Blackhawks put up a fight in the third period, firing 21 shots on Lehtonen. Keith’s goal came just 32 seconds into the third and Kane added his about eight minutes into it. But Lehtonen stopped all other threats.

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The Blackhawks were missing Artemi Panarin for the second consecutive game. Certainly that hurt them on offense – “anytime you’re missing one of your top players, it’s going to have an effect on everyone so hopefully he gets better soon,” Kane said. But Panarin’s absence wasn’t a good reason for what the Blackhawks allowed on the other end.

“We can’t give up the quality or quantity of chances to a team you know can score and attacks well,” Quenneville said. “They’re ready, it’s an important game and you come out like that. That was tough.”

The Blackhawks have been great at home this season but it’s where they’ve suffered their last two defeats. It’s not a situation over which they’ll panic, but they certainly need to be better. And they have to be better, and make the right statement, from the start next time.

“I think we expected that [the Stars] were going to come out hard, given the fact that they had a rough game and didn’t play their best against us last time we were in their building,” Toews said. “I guess we just weren’t prepared to respond to that.”

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Evan Bouchard

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 193 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"A highly intelligent defenseman with exceptional vision and offensive instincts. He reads the play very well and his passing ability allows him to be a constant threat in his team's transition game. He's one of the top offensive-defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League and magician-like when quarterbacking the power play."

NHL player comparable: John Carlson/Alex Pietrangelo

Fit for Blackhawks:

At 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, Bouchard is one of the most NHL-ready defensemen in this year's draft and that could be appetizing for a team like the Blackhawks, who are looking for immediate help on the blue line. But Bouchard is a right-handed shot, and drafting him would add a third high-end right-handed shot defenseman to the organization, along with prospects Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell.

You can never have enough of them, but there's only room for three before somebody would have to play on their off hand and that would mean the third would be playing on the bottom pairing. All three of these players have Top 4 potential.

Still, that may not even come into play here. The Blackhawks will seek to take the best available player, like they always have. And if they feel it's Bouchard, they'll do it.

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Brady Tkachuk

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 196 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"I know Tkachuk isn't a center, but Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) is another player who comes to mind with his combination of size, strength, skill and nastiness. Tkachuk has impressive hand skills and his upside has only begun because I think there's lots of maturity and growth to come. I've seen his speed and skating improve each of the past three years and I think he'll still get stronger and his balance will get better. His man strength will come and it'll be like, 'Oh boy, look out.'"

NHL player comparable: Matthew Tkachuk/Wayne Simmonds

Fit for Blackhawks:

If you're looking for a player that checks all the boxes in this year's draft, it's Tkachuk. And man could the Blackhawks use a player like him.

He's got offensive skill, willingly goes to the greasy areas, can provide net-front presence while playing a top-six role, and perhaps the most important part for the Blackhawks: he's very close to NHL ready. The Blackhawks will be patient with whoever they draft, but there's also some urgency to turn things around in 2018-19.

If they can draft a player like Tkachuk who can potentially jump into the lineup as early as this upcoming season, that would be ideal. Because he's the type of player that can make an impact, not just get by.