Chris Kunitz and Yanni Gourde scored for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 2-0 shutout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks Monday night. It’s the fourth loss in five games for the Hawks, but, well, you probably knew that considering our fan base is frothing at the mouth at this point.
The Blackhawks led 40-31 in shots on goal in the loss, but that’s little consolation. If there was ever a time for the team to dig deep and earn a big win, it was going to be at home against one of the best teams in the NHL. Instead, we got a better effort than the past two games, but not enough to see a goal, let alone win.
The Lightning’s first goal was the confluence of a lucky bounce and some lazy defending by the Blackhawks during a delayed penalty on a power play. We can rightly point out that the sequence leading to the goal never should’ve happened, but that doesn’t excuse the defensive zone play that ultimately led to the score.
The lucky bounce is that the Lightning cleared the defensive zone using a hand pass, which should’ve been whistled dead. You’re allowed to make open palm hand passes to teammates inside the defensive zone, but you can’t make a transition pass into the neutral zone using your hand.
That’s what the Lightning got away with, and it’s unfortunate.
But what’s even more unfortunate was the defending by Erik Gustafsson, Patrick Sharp, and Nick Schmaltz around the net leading up to Chris Kunitz wrapping the puck in. All someone needed to do was touch the puck to force a whistle ... instead, all three got caught in a trance.
Chris Kunitz banks one off of Glass and in. 1-0 Lightning. pic.twitter.com/PFfydPSU6i— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) January 23, 2018
That goal undid a lot of good work by the Blackhawks in the second period, and put them in a hole against the best team in the league entering the final 20 minutes.
Gourde’s goal helped put things away in the end. The Lightning may be a fantastic team that’s respectable to lose against, but this was a result the Blackhawks could ill afford.
New primary point man, same ol’ power play
Erik Gustafsson clearly left an impression on the coaching staff with his two-point game against the Islanders because he ended up playing nearly six minutes on the power play against the Lightning, the most of any Blackhawks defenseman. Unfortunately that didn’t fix anything as the power play not only failed to score in six opportunities, but gave up a goal when Gustafsson was among those who got caught puck watching on a delayed penalty.
Stopping Kucherov and Stamkos wasn’t enough
You’d think the Blackhawks would have a good chance to win when Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos finish without points. However, that good work wasn’t rewarded in the end as the Lightning’s secondary scorers stepped up on the road. That’s what great teams do.
The hole gets deeper
Well, in other terrible news, the Avalanche beat the Maple Leafs, 4-2, for their 10th straight win. Here’s an updated look at the Western Conference wild card standings as of publishing.
So that’s seven points ahead with a game in hand for Colorado. Yikes.
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB) — 40 saves on 40 shots
2. Chris Kunitz (TB) — 1 goal, 3 shots on goal
3. Yanni Gourde (TB) — 1 goal, 5 shots on goal