Blackhawks

Blackhawks winning streak snapped with loss to Lightning

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Blackhawks winning streak snapped with loss to Lightning

TAMPA — It was bound to end at some point.

The Blackhawks weren’t feeling pressure as they continued their winning streak, which reached a franchise-best 12 games on Tuesday. They were having fun adding to it. But when the Tampa Bay Lightning thwarted the Blackhawks at every opportunity on Thursday, the fun ended.

Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 33 shots, but he had, by far, the Blackhawks’ best performance in their 2-1 loss to the Lightning at Amalie Arena. The loss snapped the Blackhawks’ winning streak at 12. The Lightning, meanwhile, won their seventh consecutive game.

The Blackhawks will remain in first place in the Central Division, three points ahead of Dallas, which beat Edmonton, 3-2, on Thursday.

It wasn’t so much the loss that was disappointing — again, it was going to happen at some point. But after Artem Anisimov’s backhand gave them the lead just 43 seconds into the game, the Blackhawks didn’t put up much of a fight. They finished with just 18 shots, a season low.

“Tonight they were definitely the better team,” coach Joel Quenneville said of the Lightning. “We didn’t generate much, didn’t get much traffic or pucks to the net, didn’t get the offensive zone time we liked. We got a few shifts, but they were few and far between.”

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The Blackhawks were also doing a bit of line juggling. With Richard Panik benched after he overslept morning skate, Rob Scuderi played wing on the Blackhawks’ fourth line. Patrick Kane played a few shifts there, too.

But regardless of the line, the Blackhawks just couldn’t get much going. It took them until the third period to hit double digits on the shot count. The Lightning, meanwhile, got plenty — and good quality — shots on Crawford, who was stellar once again.

“Crow was our best player today again. At least he gave us a chance to tie the game up,” said Niklas Hjalmarsson, who wasn’t sure why the Blackhawks were so flat. “It’s tough to say. I think we maybe didn’t have our best game out there today. We knew it was going to be a tough game. They’re one of the better ... it’s their seventh (victory) in the row. It’s just a pretty rough game. Could’ve been more goals for them.”

Anton Stralman redirected Victor Hedman’s shot to tie it 1-1 about seven minutes into the first. The Blackhawks killed off two minors, including a Kane high-sticking, midway through the second period. But as Kane’s high-sticking penalty ended and he stepped out of the box to play the puck, he was whistled for interference.

That interference fell under Rule 56.2, which states:

A minor penalty shall be imposed on any identifiable player on the players' bench or penalty bench who, by means of his stick or his body, interferes with the movements of the puck or any opponent on the ice during the progress of the play. In addition, should a player about to come onto the ice, play the puck while one or both skates are still on the players' or penalty bench, a minor penalty for interference shall be assessed.

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And the Lightning would capitalize on that power play, with Kucherov scoring his 20th of the season with nine seconds remaining on the advantage.

“Yeah, I’ve been around a long time. For the number of games I’ve seen, I’ve seen one other time it happened,” Quenneville said of the obscure infraction. “I think a lot of people didn’t know the rule.”

The Blackhawks knew it was going to end at some point. They would’ve liked a better all-around performance, even if it resulted in a loss, but they’ll have a quick turnaround and face the Florida Panthers on Friday night. Jiri Sekac, who was acquired on Thursday morning from the Anaheim Ducks, is “likely” to play in that game, according to Quenneville.

The winning streak is over. But it was a heck of a ride, and it changed the complexion for the Blackhawks in the Central Division.

“Yeah, it was definitely a turning point for our season,” Crawford said. “We’re feeling good chemistry throughout the lines. It was definitely important to get on that streak and move up the standings.”

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

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USA TODAY

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!