Six games into the Blackhawks' 2020 postseason Patrick Kane finally produced near the level we're accustomed to.
Through his first five postseason games at Edmonton, Kane only had four points (one goal, three assists), with zero points and a +/- rating of -2 against Vegas in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs first round series.
Game 2 against the Golden Knights on Thursday featured a bounce-back performance from Kane, as well as Corey Crawford, and a much better effort from the Hawks across the board, but it wasn't enough to even up the series. Instead, they lost 4-3 in overtime to trail in the series 2-0.
The good news is that Kane is looking like himself, picking up three assists in the second period of Game 2 and helping the Hawks exit the second frame tied 3-3.
First, Kane assisted on Blackhawks rookie forward Kirby Dach's first NHL playoff goal, passing the puck to Calvin de Haan, who fed Dach to cut the Golden Knights' lead to 2-1 at 3:17 of the second period.
Then, Showtime picked up the primary helper on Dominik Kubalik's power-play goal that tied it 2-2, for the rookie's fourth goal in six postseason contests.
Late in the second, trailing 3-2, Alex DeBrincat passed it to Kane, who fed Dylan Strome in front of the crease to tie it 3-3 with 14 seconds remaining in the period for Strome's second postseason goal.
With Kane's third assist in the game, he passed Bobby Hull (129) for third in most playoff points in Hawks history with 130. Denis Savard is in second with 145 and Stan Mikita is No. 1 with 150.
"Well, I've been fortunate to play on some amazing teams. And I guess when you have some deep runs in the playoffs, you're going to have the chance to put up numbers and points when you're an offensive guy," Kane said following Thursday's loss. "So I appreciate those teams I've been on, trying to do the same thing here with this team."
The bad news for this Blackhawks team is that they're trailing seemingly one of, if not the best, teams in the playoffs 2-0. The good news is Kane has begun to find his game again and that three assists still doesn't cut it for his potential.
He almost had a goal in the first period on a Hawks' power play but hit the post after beating Robin Lehner five-hole.
If Chicago is able to put together a better effort and play their game closer to the full 60 minutes (pending overtime), Kane may be able to ride some momentum and put them over the top to make the series interesting in Game 3. He's been known to deliver on big stages in key moments.
"I think we got a good group," Kane said. "I think we proved it all year when we played in tough situations, faced some adversity that we were able to come back, we're able to work our way out of it. This isn't a team that's going to give up and I think we're in a situation here where we're coming into a day off then a back-to-back situation and we feel we got a young team with some fresh legs, so hopefully that can be used to our advantage."
The Vegas Golden Knights are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for a reason. They are one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the league, and the Blackhawks are seeing it first-hand in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In a 4-1 loss in Game 1 on Tuesday, the Blackhawks were reminded that the Golden Knights can tighten up defensively as good as anyone. In Game 2 on Thursday, the Golden Knights reminded the Blackhawks why they were the NHL’s best puck possession team during the regular season and showed how dangerous they can be when they dictate the pace of play.
The Blackhawks went toe-to-toe with the Golden Knights for two periods, but the Golden Knights imposed their will in the third period and overtime and eventually cashed in at the 7:13 mark to take a 2-0 series lead.
"I thought we were playing really well the first two periods," said Patrick Kane, who had three assists in Thursday's 4-3 loss. "And for whatever reason it just seemed that they came out better than us in the third. I don’t know if we thought it was going to be a little bit easier than it was, especially after we tied it up. But they’re a good team, they’re going to fight back, and they carried the play for most of the third."
The Blackhawks made significant lineup changes going into Game 2, looking for a spark after struggling to break through Vegas’ tight-checking style in Game 1. Adam Boqvist, most notably, was a healthy scratch in favor of Lucas Carlsson, who logged only 10:33 of ice time and had a plus-2 rating.
The Blackhawks also changed up the look of three of their four lines and, for the most part, it worked. But the Golden Knights were too much to handle, even without their leading scorer Max Pacioretty, who was ruled "unfit to play."
From the third period on, the Golden Knights led in shot attempts (36-16), shots on goal (23-7), scoring chances (21-8) and high-danger chances (7-3), according to Natural Stat Trick. It was a dominant effort, and only a matter of time before they broke through.
"They're a really good third-period team and they had a hard push," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I would've liked to see us handle it a little better. ... Disappointing, because I thought the guys played hard. But at the same time, we need to keep getting better, keep improving. We're not out of it. We're going to regroup and come back raring to go for Game 3."
Credit the Blackhawks for rallying from a two-goal deficit to even the score at 3-3 by the end of the second period. They showed, yet again, that they won't go down without a fight and are never out of a game.
But they've given up the first goal in five of six postseason games now and have yet to play with a lead in 127:13 minutes against the Golden Knights. That needs to change if the Blackhawks want to get back into this series, which is going to be difficult considering teams that go up 2-0 in a series go on to win 87.2 percent of the time.
It's a crucial weekend for the Blackhawks, who have a day off on Friday before playing back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday.
"Once we find our groove, we’ll be alright as a group," Kirby Dach said. "It’s tough to swallow this one right now. We had chances in overtime to put the game away. That’s not the way it went, so we’ve got to regroup fast here because these next two games are coming up quick."