Blackhawks

Lightning's third-period onslaught too much for Blackhawks

Lightning's third-period onslaught too much for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks were hardly in a safe position entering the third period on Tuesday night, but they were definitely in a familiar one, taking a lead into the final 20 minutes. Even with some hiccups in recent third periods, they still found a way to keep their winning intact.

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning had other ideas.

Tyler Johnson scored twice in 30 seconds, part of a four-goal third period for the Lighting as they stormed back to beat the Blackhawks 5-2 on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks remain in second place in the Western Conference, two points behind the Minnesota Wild, who still have three games in hand.

The Blackhawks' three-game winning streak is snapped. The bigger, more impressive number of 78-0-5, the Blackhawks' regular-season record when leading after two periods (dating back to the start of the 2014-15 season), is also done.

In all honesty, that record was going to end at some point. How it ended wasn't so pretty. The Blackhawks, taking a 2-1 lead into the third period, trailed 4-2 just 6:44 into it. Nikita Nesterov, Johnson (twice) and Nikita Kucherov (empty-net goal) inflicted the third-period damage.

"They got a big shot right off the faceoff. Didn't look dangerous, and then they scored two quick goals and now we're behind it against a dangerous team," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We did some good things around the net. We had a lot of scoring chances. We didn't have the finish."

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Jonathan Toews did early. The Blackhawks captain had another strong outing, recording a goal and an assist. He was active all night and creating scoring opportunities, especially in the first 40 minutes. But the Lightning were active and aggressive all night and, as Quenneville said, had the finish to go with their chances. Tied 2-2, the Blackhawks were fine. Once Johnson scored his two in 30 seconds — Quenneville wasn't happy with the third goal (Johnson's first) the Blackhawks allowed — the Blackhawks looked stunned.

"It doesn't happy very often," Trevor van Riemsdyk said. "I don't think we were too shell-shocked or whatever you want to say. It takes a little more than that to really do that to us, but obviously we didn't respond the way we wanted to and they got another one there and that was tough. You want to respond a little better right after that first one. The next shift, just put the puck in their end and keep it going that way rather than our end."

On Sunday the Blackhawks squandered a two-goal lead they built entering the third period. They came back to win and extend that impressive when-leading-after-two-periods streak. On Tuesday, they had no answers. Quenneville wasn't in too angry of a mood after this one but considering how good the Blackhawks have always been in third periods, they wanted to be much better in this one.

"We can't be letting games like that slip away," Toews said. "I think the talk for a long time has been starting games a little bit better. I think we've been seeing that. Obviously if we're in the right spot, we're in the driver's seat going into the third periods with a lead. Whether it's one goal or more than that, we've got to find ways to play better. I think a team like that, especially with their speed, they're going to come hard and the finish wasn't there tonight."

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

The London Knights set high expectations for themselves going into the 2018-19 OHL campaign. They always do. Their roster is usually loaded with top NHL prospects and this season was no different.

After finishing No. 1 in the Western Conference with 99 points, the Knights looked poised to go on a deep run. They got off to a roaring start in the playoffs by sweeping the Windsor Spitfires (4-0) and kicked off the second round by winning three straight against the Guelph Storm. But then, for the first time all season, the Knights lost four in a row to squander a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated just like that. It was a disappointing finish for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations.

One of the bright spots of the postseason was Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist. He was tied for first among all skaters with 10 goals through two rounds; no other defenseman had more than six. And he finished with 13 points in 11 games for a points-per-game average of 1.18.

To summarize his season: Boqvist scored one goal in his first 15 games. From that point on, he finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 50 games, including playoffs. He became an offensive driving force.

It's unclear what his future holds, but with Evan Bouchard expected to turn pro and secure a full-time roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers next season, returning to London would put Boqvist in a position where he could be the No. 1 defenseman in all situations.

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Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

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AP

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

If we're evaluating Stan Bowman's moves as a whole, we have to go back to July 1 when the 2018-19 season really started.

On that day, the Blackhawks announced three signings: Chris Kunitz (one year, $1 million), Brandon Manning (two years, $2.25 million cap hit) and Cam Ward (one year, $3 million). Not exactly splashy additions after missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years — although, to be fair, it wasn't a great market to throw money around.

Eleven days later, the Blackhawks traded Marian Hossa and his $5.275 million cap hit to the Arizona Coyotes in a seven-player deal that included top-nine winger Vinnie Hinostroza. Bowman acknowledged after the trade that he tried exploring every possible avenue before surrendering that the financial flexibility became more valuable.

But the trade might've put the team in a better position going into free agency had it been executed before July 1. Because of all that, Bowman's grade isn't looking great so far.

Then we get into the actual regular season.

The biggest move Bowman made was the coaching change on Nov. 6 in going from future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville to Jeremy Colliton, which was a controversial decision in and of itself, especially the timing of it.

“There’s no perfect way to do things," Bowman admitted. "I think we made the best of it at the time. It’s one of those things where you’ve just gotta get through it. I think he’s gonna benefit from not only having a training camp next year but also we had this whole long stretch of a season. ... We’ve got a lot more things we want to get to, and I think we did a good job of — it’s a good start, but I’m sure Jeremy will tell you that we want to be way better next year and we’re gonna push our players to be better. We’re gonna try to do things differently. It’s not just taking this exact same program and we’ll start that. We want to do different things as well and enhance our team. I think there’s reason for hope there.”

Where did Bowman start to earn high marks? The roster tinkering, beginning in late November.

Perhaps recognizing that Nick Schmaltz wasn't progressing the way the team would have liked in a contract season, Bowman dealt him for a potential future second-line center in Dylan Strome and replenished the top-nine forward they lost in Hinostroza with Brendan Perlini, who showed flashes down the stretch. That's turned out to be a win-win for both sides.

The trade that was very clearly one-sided is the one Bowman pulled off with Peter Chiarelli, who was later relieved of his GM duties with the Edmonton Oilers.

Not only did Bowman acquire rugged winger Drake Caggiula, who became such a valuable part of the Blackhawks' second-half turnaround because he was a perfect complement for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line, but he unloaded the contract of Manning without having to retain salary or giving up an important piece of the roster. It essentially gave the Blackhawks an extra $2.25 million to work with this summer, which shouldn't go unnoticed when you look at how deep the 2019 free agent class is.

Bowman essentially undid the mistake he made and put the Blackhawks in an even better position going into this offseason by adding a useful player on top of it. So he certainly upped his overall grade.

Now it's time to spend the money he cleared in getting rid of the contracts of Hossa and Manning, and continue building around the current core.

"We're not going to bring the same group back," Bowman said. "That's clear. We don't do that really any year. There's changes to every team, even a team that ends up winning the Cup this year will have some different players. We're going to have some new players next year. What we're going to do is try to improve in the areas where our team needs some help and the way that looks isn't completely clear right now, but we have time over the next couple months to dive in and look at our team in greater detail and figure out how we're going to make that happen.

"There's obviously free agent signings, there's trades, there's growth from within. Those are the ways that your team improves from year to year and we're going to do that. So we're going to have some new players here next year for sure but we have a lot of players that are going to be back and I think a lot of the key guys who had good seasons they're coming back for sure, so we don't need across the board changes but we do need some new players."

Front office: B-

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