The Chicago Blackhawks turned in a better overall performance than several of their recent outings, but still ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard in a 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames at the United Center on Sunday night.
Calgary took a 1-0 lead in the middle of the first period when Sean Monahan’s drive to the net allowed him to poke him a rebound. Unlike the Blackhawks recent outings, though, they responded. Just 86 seconds after Monahan’s goal, Jonathan Toews broke up a pass in the defensive zone, triggering a breakaway in the opposite direction that Toews finished with a shot through the legs of Flames goaltender Mike Smith.
The first period ended in a 1-1 tie, but the game then changed on a second-period penalty against Blackhawks forward Chris Kunitz, who earned a five-minute major and game misconduct for elbowing Calgary’s Travis Hamonic.
Calgary made the penalty hurt, with Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan scoring during the lengthy power play to make it a 3-1 Flames lead.
But the Blackhawks didn’t go away quietly. Dylan Strome scored a power play goal (seriously, a PPG!), set up on a brilliant breakout pass from goaltender Corey Crawford to Alex DeBrincat, who then sent Strome in on net.
The Blackhawks killed a pair of penalties in the final period and then bombarded the Calgary net with shots in the final minutes. Artem Anisimov had the game-tying goal on his stick and was inches away from making it a 3-3 game, if not for a ridiculous save from Smith:
But Smith had an answer for every Blackhawks scoring chance in the final period, sending the Blackhawks to their sixth loss in the last seven games.
The Kunitz penalty
It’s a stupid, selfish, pointless, terrible, awful penalty by Kunitz that was probably the game’s turning point. The Blackhawks have a razor-thin margin for error already, and handing out five-minute power plays to a team with several lethal offensive weapons is a recipe for disaster. And this comes from a skater with two freaking points this season, the same as Crawford. Kunitz can’t do this. It’ll be a stunner if he’s in the lineup for Chicago’s next game, either by a benching from the NHL or by coach Jeremy Colliton.
Let’s throw one positive out there: Strome has looked the part in his albeit small sample size of Blackhawks hockey. He took in a pass from his old OHL teammate on Sunday night to score his second goal in four games with Chicago. Strome was also responsible for multiple scoring chances with his hands and on-ice vision, including the above scoring chance that Anisimov failed to bury. So far, so good for No. 17.
It’s still not enough
Moral victories aren’t going to do it anymore. A sizable gap now exists between the Blackhawks and the top five teams in the Central Division, meaning it’ll be an uphill climb over the next four months to reach the playoffs. If this team is going to make the playoffs — because the front office keeps claiming that’s the goal — then the Blackhawks have to find a way to get two points in games like this one, when they’re close enough on the scoreboard to earn the W.
There are spurts of good hockey from Chicago. After some of these disasters in the first period, the Blackhawks have turned things around and started dominating the play. But that always happens after a three-goal deficit. And then in a game like this one, when the Blackhawks are tied at one after the first, a pointless penalty from a useless player results in a pair of goals against that turn the game. That’s what makes this team so infuriating: they’ve had countless stretches of quality play. But they don’t happen often enough or last long enough to result in a victory. And until that changes, this team is only going to sink further in the standings.
- Mike Smith (CAL) — 22 saves
- Sean Monahan (CAL) — 1 goal, 1 assist
- Elias Lindholm (CAL) — 1 goal, 1 assist