After a hot February, the Blackhawks looked to continue their momentum despite a daunting March schedule which opened on a three in four days stretch against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite playing arguably their best game to date, the Blackhawks fell to the Lightning 3-2 in overtime on a deflating buzzer beater by Alex Killorn Thursday night. The Blackhawks won’t have time to dwell on the frustrating loss as they face the Lightning again Friday night at the United Center.
The Lightning came into the United Center riding a five game win streak, outscoring their opponents 17-3 in that span, and taking a firm position atop the Central Division standings. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the clear Vezina frontrunner, also had three straight shutouts. Despite only generating five high danger scoring chances — their third lowest this season — the Lightning took advantage of their limited chances and stuck twice in a span of 1:51 to tie the game then again with 0.1 seconds left in overtime to steal the game. Give the Lightning the opportunity and they’ll steal your lunch money.
Alex Killorn had only his third multi-point game of the season with a goal and an assist. His line with Yanni Gourde and Steven Stamkos, which was united later in the game, was the only line for the Lightning to truly dominate — they had a 60 percent shot attempt share and 84.56 percent expected goals share at 5-on-5. Stamkos would add a goal himself to tie the game in the second period. Victor Hedman, who assisted on the game-winning goal, led the team in shot attempts (8) at even strength in a whopping 27:16 of ice time. And although his shutout streak broke, Vasilevskiy had a .946 save percentage, stopping 35 of 37 shots.
The Blackhawks continued to exceed expectations in the month of February, earning the second most points during the month. Even though they didn’t win Thursday night, the Blackhawks did not look out of place against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. Coming into the game, the bar was set extremely low after the 10-goal onslaught from the Lightning during the opening two games of the season, but the Blackhawks did what they’ve done all season: surprise, albeit in a different way than usual.
There’s no secret the Blackhawks have struggled with shot metric possession at 5-on-5 this season, so the fact that the Blackhawks dominated in both quantity (58.77 shot attempt percentage) and quality (58.1 expected goals percentage) was amazing to see. The only issue is that their opponent was the Lightning, a team that can turn it on for just a handful of minutes and pull out a victory. Still, the Blackhawks holding one of the most offensively gifted teams to only three high-danger chances at 5-on-5 is impressive. Now, they have to repeat this type of performance more often — it’d be great to start Friday night without hopefully a more satisfying result — but credit the Blackhawks for stepping up for at least a game.
Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat’s chemistry shone once again, as the two connected for another goal, and along with Pius Suter, combined for almost 30 percent of the Blackhawks scoring chances. Fan-favorite Brandon Hagel also impressed with his speed and backchecking ability as well as quick wits and smart passing play on Ryan Carpenter’s shorthanded goal. Hagel’s line with Dominik Kubalik and David Kampf also had the best expected goal percentage (81.15) at 5-on-5 for the team. Kevin Lankinen had another solid outing with a .912 save percentage and was only beat by two deflected shots and snipe from one of the best goal scorers in the league.
However, for all the resilience the Blackhawks have shown with come behind heroics this season, one of the lessons they still haven’t learned is how to close out an opponent — they’re 28th in the league in win percentage with a lead going into the final period. During the Cup winning years, the Blackhawks were known as the ultimate closers, especially during the 2014-15 season in which the Blackhawks did not loss a single game when leading after the second period in the regular season and playoffs. To be fair, the Lightning are a team that can easily flip a switch to win, but the Blackhawks need to show that killer instinct if they want to hang with the big dogs of the division.
Tale of the Tape
Blackhawks — Statistic — Lightning
47.66% (17th) — Corsi For — 49.35% (17th)
47.35% (26th) — Expected goals for — 49.76% (18th)
3.08 (13th) — Goals per game — 3.52 (1st)
2.88 (15th) — Goals against per game — 1.95 (1st)
46.7% (28th) — Faceoffs — 49.6% (18th)
32.4% (1st) — Power play — 26.1% (7th)
75.4% (23rd) — Penalty kill — 88.9% (1st)
DeBrincat — Suter — Kane
Janmark — Soderberg — Kurashev
Kubalik — Kampf — Hagel
Highmore — Wallmark — Carpenter
Keith — Mitchell
de Haan — Boqvist
Zadorov — Murphy
Palat — Point — Coleman
Killorn — Cirelli — Stamkos
Goodrow — Gourde — Johnson
Maroon — Joseph — Volkov
Hedman — Rutta
McDonagh — Schenn
Sergachev — Foote
How to watch
When: 7 p.m.
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.tv