The Blackhawks and Avs played one of the most exciting periods of the season over the final 20 minutes on Friday night at the United Center, but the trouble is, Chicago was already trailing 2-0 when it started.
“I do like the way we competed and stayed hungry and stayed in it, made it exciting,” interim head coach Derek King said, acknowledging his team’s competitive drive to pull back into within a goal on three separate occasions. “But when you’re playing teams like that, you have to be ready to play for three periods, and we weren’t.”
Chicago has held its own in three straight games with the league-leading Avalanche over the last three-plus weeks, fighting back late for an overtime loss at home, dropping a closely-fought 2-0 game on Monday in Denver and then Friday night’s comeback attempt. While the positives remain there from stretches of games, overall the team knows that at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is points in the standings and there have been missed opportunities to collect more in recent weeks as a whole.
“We’ve played some pretty good teams [in the last month]. We’ve got to find a way to win,” Brandon Hagel said. “Nobody wants to just keep losing and say, ‘Oh, we played well, we played well.'”
On Wednesday night in Detroit, a combined six-goal third period — tying a then-season high — was an exhilarating end to the game. Then Friday’s third period said “Watch this.”
Chicago and Colorado combined for eight goals and on three separate occasions the Blackhawks cut the Avs lead to a single goal. But each time, Colorado responded with a goal of their own, two of which happened less than 76 seconds after Chicago’s tally.
“That’s not fun. It is (demoralizing). End of the period or right after a goal, it’s always a big shift that next one,” King said. “You have to be ready. The game is on the line every shift. Sometimes we don’t have that mentality. Hopefully we learn from it, because we did some good things tonight. Maybe if we were a little more prepared and focused for the whole game, maybe they’re pulling their goalie.”
The Blackhawks top line of Patrick Kane (2G, 1A), Hagel (2G) and Dylan Strome (2A) led the offense for the second straight night in the comeback bid that fell short.
Colorado looked to take a commanding lead to start the second period, up 1-0 in the opening 75 seconds and what was initially called a 2-0 goal on the ice just a shade under five minutes into the frame. But King and Co. deftly realized that Nazem Kadri entered the zone a fraction of a second before Andre Burakovsky did carrying the puck on the rush leading to the Alex Newhook tally. The staff challenged the call, which was promptly overturned.
The successful challenge was the first of King’s NHL tenure and sparked a response from the team right away, with two Blackhawks scoring chances, a fight and a big hit by Connor Murphy in the following three minutes. But after that stretch, Colorado fought back and eventually did make it 2-0 after 40 minutes of play.
The Blackhawks were without captain Jonathan Toews on Friday night after he entered concussion protocol stemming from a hit late in the game on Wednesday in Detroit.
“Obviously he’s a huge part of this organization and… he’s a huge part of our team. He’s our leader,” King said. “We’re going to miss him, but we’re making sure we do the right thing by this and there’s no timeframe, it’s when he’s feeling right. You can’t mess around with this stuff. We’ll just go day-by-day every day and see how he’s feeling and when he’s ready, he’ll come back and join us.”
In other injury news, Jujhar Khaira (lower back) returned to the ice for morning skate, but wasn’t quite ready to return to the lineup for the night’s game.
“It was good to see him out there trying it, but still not quite there yet,” King said. “There’s no point of rushing that, especially when we’ve got two practices coming up and he can really get a feel how he’s going to feel after those practices.”
Tyler Johnson (neck) has begun skating with the team in a non-contact jersey and could be cleared for contact soon, according to King, but is still about a month away from being available. He also said Riley Stillman (shoulder) is still 2-3 weeks from his return after being injured a week ago Friday.