The Chicago Blackhawks were on their heels early and often for the second night in a row as the Florida Panthers got off to a fast start and never looked back. Roberto Luongo made 27 saves for his fourth shutout of the season for a 4-0 victory and hand Chicago its second straight loss.
The shutout was the 72nd of Luongo's NHL career, moving him into 10th place on the league's all-time list. He was tied with Lorne Chabot and Harry Lumley. The loss snapped a eight-game streak against Florida in the series.
Reilly Smith, Brian Campbell and Quinton Howden each scored first-period goals for Florida (27-15-5), which snapped a four-game skid.
Scott Darling made 28 saves for Chicago (32-15-4). It was Darling's first loss in four starts.
Smith beat Darling with a short side roof shot at the 10:19 mark of the first period to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Darling probably could have stopped it, but Brent Seabrook and Erik Gustafsson blew their coverage on the play, leaving Smith all alone on the rush. After things seemed to settle down, Campbell doubled the Panthers lead with 2:42 to go in the first period with a one-timer from the left point. Darling had some more soft-serve for Florida as Howden scored with three seconds left in the period to send the defending champs back to the locker room down 3-0.
Whatever Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wrote on his notecard to yell at his team about during the intermission apparently didn't work. Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad picked up an awful Rob Scuderi defensive zone turnover and beat Darling high glove side to push the score to 4-0 three minutes into the second period. Darling did finish the game, making 28 saves, but this was not one of his best efforts despite getting hung out to dry by his teammates.
Quenneville turned the blender on in the third period, most notably swapping Jonathan Toews and Phillip Danault with their respective linemates for a few shifts. Coach Q also opted to empty his net with 8:30 remaining in the game, but that only ended in a penalty on Artemi Panarin about a minute later. Louongo didn't have to work very hard to earn the shutout, sending the Blackhawks home without earning any points in the standings during their trip through the state of Florida.
The power play came up empty for the Blackhawks for the third game in a row. After starting that stretch as the third best team in the league with the man advantage, the Hawks have struggled with zone entries and really haven't looked like the lethal unit that they have been all season long.
Also troubling was the performance at the faceoff dot by the Blackhawks. After winning only 33 percent of draws against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, the Hawks could only muster that same rate during that disastrous first period tonight against the Panthers. While that percentage would eventually skew slightly in the Hawks' favor by the end of the game, the damage had been done. One could argue about the correlation between faceoff wins and goals scored, but it's difficult to drive possession when the other team starts the majority of shifts with the puck. Perhaps some extra practice with coach, and faceoff savant, Yanic Perrault is in order.
The all-star break can't come fast enough for the weary Blackhawks as they have played 15 games in the last 26 days and were outplayed in all phases throughout this back-to-back set. The Hawks still have two more games before the break though, with the next one coming at home for a key divisional matchup against the St. Louis Blues at 6 p.m. Sunday at United Center.