The Blackhawks erupted for five goals in the third period, surging to a 5-2 win over the Lightning at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. It was just the third Chicago win in its last 12 games (3-7-2), as the Blackhawks remain eight points away from the second wild card in the Western Conference with 18 games remaining this season.
Power play Kubalik
Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton offered one regret regrading Kubalik in the postgame interview:
Colliton on if he wishes he put Kubalik on the PP earlier:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) February 28, 2020
"Yeah. And I wish we would've put Kaner on the other side earlier."
An answer a lot of fans have been longing to hear.
Kubalik ranks ninth on the team at 1:50 of power play time per game, but those numbers have been inflated in February, when there are games with power play ice time figures of 6:11, 6:33 and Thursday’s 7:22 for the 24-year old rookie. Through the first 34 games this season, that number was down at 1:17, as Kubalik was on the second power-play unit which was barely getting a chance to sustain possession.
There are two sides to this discussion: an optimist would be thankful Colliton finally put Kubalik on the top power-play unit, while a pessimist would be upset with the inability to self-scout Kubalik’s talent and know he should be earning top power-play minutes from Day 1. But he’s there now, and having one of the NHL’s top playmakers in Patrick Kane feeding him the puck should lead to more scoring chances.
And if Alex DeBrincat is able to shake off his slump, the Blackhawks could end up with talented snipers on each power-play unit. That kind of multi-faceted power play attack could be what helps Chicago’s conversion rate on the power play crawl out of the league basement in future seasons.
Corey Crawford shows Blackhawks can survive without Robin Lehner
There are extenuating circumstances here, most notably Chicago’s upcoming salary cap crunch looming this summer. With Lehner on an expiring deal and living up to his Vezina Trophy nominee from the 2018-19 season, he was going to cash in at a rate the Blackhawks probably couldn’t afford.
Crawford’s also an unrestricted free agent this summer, though, at 35 years old, he may not command as much of a salary as the 28-year-old Lehner. Still, the Blackhawks could’ve opted to hang on to Lehner at the trade deadline and shipped Crawford away to a team looking for help.
But they didn’t, for reasons that may not be totally known to those outside the front office. From this perspective, though, it remains sensible the Blackhawks can survive and perhaps even re-emerge as contenders in the short term with Crawford in net. His virtuoso performance in the second period — stopping 19 of 20 shots that included several saves of the spectacular variety — served as reminders of how good, how steady and how consistent he can be when he’s at his sharpest. He was that way against Tampa and he’s been that way for the majority of the 2020 calendar year. Plenty of other roster spots are yet to be sorted but if Chicago enters the 2020-21 season with Crawford as the No. 1 goaltender, there should be significant confidence that he’ll continue to shine in that role.
It’s still there
Down two goals in the third period to a shorthanded yet still potent Lightning team in a rink where Chicago hadn’t won in regulation since 2009 with a playoff spot again fading out of view, the Blackhawks could’ve packed it up with 19 minutes remaining.
But they didn’t.
Say what you will about these Blackhawks, and there's a lot to say. But they've character coming out of their ears. They don't quit. Been that way all season.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 28, 2020
It may not come around as often as it had in the first half of the prior decade, but there are still remnants of those Blackhawks teams that refused to die, that would not go away quietly, that were at their best when playoff series turned to Games 5, 6 and 7. It was nice to see that reminder against the Lightning and it offers a glimmer of hope that, with a few other additions to improve the roster, the Blackhawks can still return to that form as their rule instead of the exception.