Chicago Blackhawks’ free fall continues with loss to Rangers

There were many storylines entering last night’s game between the Blackhawks and Rangers last night:

You had the return of ex-Blackhawk Artemi Panarin, who had four more points (78) entering the game than team-leading Patrick Kane (74).

You had the battle of Strome brothers Dylan and Ryan, with their mother Trish in attendance on the Rangers’ annual mothers trip. Not to mention, the battle of draft picks Kaapo Kakko and Kirby Dach, who were selected second and third overall in last year’s draft, respectively.

You had two teams who were both eight points out of a playoff spot and desperate for points.

By the end of it all, you had only one storyline: the Blackhawks are done this year.

Last night’s 6-3 loss to the Rangers continued a horrific February free fall in which the Blackhawks have gone 2-6-2 in their last 10 games. Once just three points from a playoff spot, the Hawks’ collapse would occur after their longest winning streak of the season (five games) and coincide one game prior to the All-Star break. Since then, the Hawks have fallen eight points out of a playoff spot, with three teams (Winnipeg, Nashville and Minnesota) surpassing and separating them from the final Wild Card spot.

“Makes you angry, because it’s a game that you’re looking for,” head coach Jeremy Colliton said following the loss. “We needed this game. We didn’t do the things right from the start to put ourselves in the best position to win. We just didn’t have enough guys ready to play.”

Dominik Kubalik would score two goals to increase his rookie-scoring lead to 25 and Duncan Keith would record his 500th career assist, but the good news would end there for the Blackhawks.

With a 1-1 tie entering the third period, New York would open the floodgates, scoring five goals and registering multiple-goal leads en route to the 6-3 victory. In the battle of brothers and draft picks, Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko would register a goal and an assist respectively, while Dylan Strome and Kirby Dach both finished scoreless with -2 ratings. In addition to Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko, Artemi Panarin would also gain bragging rights over ex-linemate Patrick Kane, scoring his 30th goal of the year over Kane’s assist.

More alarming than the ugly loss itself was the apparent regression of rookie Adam Boqvist, who was a healthy scratch the game prior against Winnipeg. Boqvist was on the ice for three of New York’s six goals — and it was Boqvist’s assigned man who scored each goal. Both Filip Chytil and Chris Kreider beat Boqvist while transitioning up-ice, easily maneuvering around the rookie defenseman with little to no duress. Boqvist then left Mika Zibanejad completely uncovered in front of Hawk goalie Robin Lehner for an easy tap-in goal.

“Tough night, tonight,” Colliton said when asked about Boqvist. “He’s a kid, so it’s not going to be perfect all the time and it’s our job to help him through it.”

Like Boqvist, Robin Lehner’s play has also sputtered recently. In his last five starts, Lehner has given up 20 goals, recording an .888 save percentage. With rumors of his contract extension hitting an impasse as the trade deadline looms, it’s only common to wonder whether the pressure of being traded is beginning to weigh on the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent.

The Blackhawks will finish a two-game home stand this Friday against the Nashville Predators, who are currently five points above them in the West. The Hawks will then embark on a four-game road trip, with their first three opponents being inevitable playoff teams currently competing for the number one seed in their respective divisions (Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning).

The trip will then end against ex-coach Joel Quenneville’s Florida Panthers — the same team who had ended the Hawks’ longest winning streak of the season in the last game before the All-Star break. Even if the Hawks improve the 1-4-0 record from their prior road trip, with only 22 games remaining, it may only serve as a moral victory in a lost-playoff year, at best.

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