Everyone knew March would be the biggest test for the Chicago Blackhawks this year. So far, the Blackhawks are failing the test.
The Blackhawks started the game well enough, jumping to a 1-0 lead while reigniting their recently-struggling power play in the process. With Tampa’s Barclay Goodrow in the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct, Mattias Janmark capitalized with a nice deflection off Dominik Kubalik’s shot from the point, scoring his 10th goal of the year. Goodrow earned the penalty after challenging Connor Murphy to fight, seeking retribution for Murphy’s match-penalty hit on Erik Cernak in the last game between both teams.
Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde would strike within four minutes of each other late in the first period, stealing the lead with a power play goal of their own. Killorn scored on a wrap-around, squeaking the puck past Kevin Lankinen, who failed to seal the post. Lankinen’s woes continued on Gourde’s goal, with the puck trickling through the netminder’s five-hole.
After missing the last 11 games, Dylan Strome returned to the lineup in a major way, tying the game with 1:15 seconds left in the period. After initially being stopped by goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, Strome eventually jabbed the puck in the net while on the doorstep. The play was all started by Janmark, who fought past Erik Cernak along the half boards before finding Strome.
After a scoreless second period, Tampa would regain the lead, compliments of fourth-liner Ross Colton. With Tampa transitioning, Colton sped through the neutral zone, beating Connor Murphy and crashing the net for the 3-2 tally. Victor Hedman would add an empty-net goal with 16 seconds left to seal the victory.
The loss now drops the Blackhawks to 3-6-1 in their last 10 games and marks their third consecutive defeat. On this current six-game road trip, the Blackhawks hold a paltry 1-4-0 record, with one game remaining against Tampa Bay before a six-game home stand. In addition, the Hawks’ once-comfortable 4th place points-lead has disintegrated, with the Columbus Blue Jackets now just two points behind for the last playoff seed in the Central Division.
After a strong stretch of solid play, Kevin Lankinen has struggled recently, allowing 19 goals in his last five games. Although Lankinen had solidified himself as the starter earlier this season, his recent woes may give backup Malcolm Subban another shot to claim the net. Either way, the Blackhawks will need a much better team effort overall.
The one positive from this game was that the Blackhawks held their own against the defending Stanley Cup champions. With Murphy’s hit on Cernak fresh on their mind, Tampa was out for blood all game, targeting not only Murphy but any Hawk in sight. Instead of backing down, Chicago responded, both physically and in their overall game play. Alex Debrincat leveled Tampa’s Patrick Maroon, who is practically twice the former’s size; and drew a penalty when Maroon retaliated immediately afterward. Both of Chicago’s goals were scored on the power play, which had been cold the last few games. Compared to the Blackhawks’ effort against the Florida Panthers, their compete level was much better this game.
Saturday will be the last time the Blackhawks face the Lightning in the regular season this year. The Lightning hold a 5-0-1 record against the Blackhawks this season.