The Blackhawks face the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning for the second time in three days on Saturday, hoping to cap the otherwise disappointing southern road trip with a win. Chicago has lost three consecutive games and four in their last five.
The good news is that, despite the loss Thursday, the Blackhawks performed decently well and kept it close for much of the game. They’ll want to build on that momentum — however small — to rebound so they can return to the United Center on a positive note.
The Lightning seem to be in a bit of cruise control this season, allowing their their opponent to score first in over half of their games. But they’re the defending Stanley Cup Champions for a reason and have the highest win percentage in games when they score second in the league.
Much like other successful teams of the past, the Lightning conserve their energy for late pushes (they’ve outscored their opponents by the largest margin in the third period in the league) and then shut the game down for the win (they’ve allow the second fewest goals in the third period). Coffee is for closers only, and the Lightning wait for the caffeine to kick in late to impose their will for wins.
All of this held true in Thursday’s game against the Blackhawks. Despite allowing the Blackhawks to score first, the Lightning responded in the same period off a wraparound goal from noted Blackhawks killer Alex Killorn. Tampa scored again less than four minutes later when Yanni Gourde’s power play backhander slipped through. Although the Blackhawks would get one back before the first period ended, it was like watching a rerun and you knew what was coming next. Sure enough, the Lightning did what the Lightning do best and dominated the third period, owning a 62.5 percent share of shot attempts and 75.54 perfect share of expected goals. Rookie Ross Colton would get the game-winning goal on a breakaway, and then Victor Hedman sealed the Lightning victory with an empty-netter in the final minute for a 4-2 win. Andrei Vasilevskiy also got his 10th straight win, almost acting as a exclamation point on such a deep team.
The month of March was expected to be difficult for the Blackhawks but, other than the surprisingly competitive pair of opening games against the Lightning, the month has been more unkind than anticipated to Chicago. The current road trip has especially been bleak as the Blackhawks have been outshot 161-120, out chanced 137-100, and out scored 22-12. The woes have been compounded by the goaltending coming back down to earth, but the Blackhawks’ issues have been across the board, as they’ve had some of the worst expected goals share games of the season in the last five games, including their two lowest. Their only victory on this trip came while shooting an outrageously lucky 50 percent on their first eight shots and the opposing netminder didn’t make a save at 5-on-5 the entire game. The southern road trip has been as disappointing as February was exhilarating.
As stated above, the last game wasn’t without some positives. First, the Blackhawks kept pace with the Lightning in terms of high-danger scoring chances and expected goals at 5-on-5 — not an easy feat against an offensive juggernaut like the Lightning. Second, Dylan Strome returned to the lineup and had a noticeable impact: not only did he score one of the Hawks two goals, his line with Mattias Janmark and Ryan Carpenter was arguably the best against the Lightning at 5-on-5. Last, the power play was clicking again, scoring twice and looking overall better than in the two games prior. If the Blackhawks can generate more offense at 5-on-5 and keep the defensive miscues to a minimum, they have a good chance to build on their previous outing and close out the road trip with a win.
No season is complete without a taste of adversity, so now would be the perfect time for the Blackhawks to show some of their patented resiliency.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Lightning
46.45% (29th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 51.73% (10th)
45.29% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.55 (7th)
2.97 (16th) — Goals per game — 3.62 (1st)
3.23 (24th) — Goals against per game — 2.34 (5th)
46.0% (29th) — Faceoffs — 49.9% (18th)
29.2% (2nd) — Power play — 28.9% (3rd)
72.6% (27th) — Penalty kill — 83.8% (7th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
DeBrincat — Kampf — Kane
Kubalik — Suter — Hagel
Janmark — Carpenter — Strome
Wallamrk — Soderberg — Kurashev
Keith — Murphy
de Haan — Boqvist
Zadorov — Michell
Palat — Point — Cirelli
Killorn — Gourde — Stamkos
Goodrow — Johnson — Coleman
Maroon — Colton — Joseph
Hedman — Rutta
McDonagh — Cernak
Sergachev — Foote
How to watch
When: 3 p.m.
Where: Amalie Arena
TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV