The Chicago Blackhawks relinquished two more contests to the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning this past Thursday and Saturday. It marked their fourth consecutive loss, which is the longest losing streak of their season. Blackhawks’ fans are waiting for it to turn around. The frustrating part is the team is playing competitively; they just can’t seem to put all the pieces together. Alas, their success earlier in the season appears to be catching up with them. That and a very difficult March schedule. Here are some thoughts on this past two-game series, as well as a few observations about the seven matchups with the Lightning to date.
Blackhawks’ Game Results
@ Lightning, Thurs. 3/18, Loss 4-2
@ Lightning, Sat. 3/20, Loss 4-1
Blackhawks’ Overall Record: 14-13-5, 33 points
DeBrincat Strikes Again
Yes, this heading is an intentional play on words. Obviously it’s the Lightning that have struck by defeating the Blackhawks in six of their seven games played this season. But DeBrincat has been a pleasant bright spot in the competition against the Bolts. He’s produced the best for the Blackhawks, with five goals and two assists in seven games played.
DeBrincat scored the lone Blackhawks’ goal on Saturday, as well as tallies in Games 2 and 3, and two goals in Game 4. He currently leads the Blackhawks with 16 goals on the season overall. The 23-year-old has been chosen as our Star of the Week numerous times, and it’s clear he’s taking the next step in what should be a long and successful NHL career. He’ll need to continue finding the back of the net if the Blackhawks want to snap out of their losing streak.
Strome Returns to the Lineup
Dylan Strome re-entered the lineup on Thursday after being out 11 games with concussion issues. He slotted onto the third line with Mattias Janmark and Ryan Carpenter, on the right wing. It’s natural to expect a little bit of rust, but Strome didn’t see it that way. He was motivated to get back to helping the team.
Strome did just that, contributing a power play goal and four shots on goal in the 4-2 loss. According to Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times, when Strome was on the ice the Blackhawks led the Lightning in shot attempts 13-6, shots on goal 9-2 and scoring chances 8-4 (from ‘Dylan Strome impresses in return, but Blackhawks lose to Lightning’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 3/18/21).
Heck, Strome even won four-of-seven faceoffs (57%) although Carpenter was technically centering that line. The 23-year-old has had more success playing center in the past, but he deferred after Thursday’s game, seemingly happy with wherever head coach Jeremy Colliton wants to put him.
[There’s] a lot less thinking when you’re on the wing, I find. I just went out there and, when I got the puck, tried to make something happen. I was playing with a couple of great players (Carpenter and Janmark).
Strome didn’t stand out as much on Saturday. But he did spend some time centering the first line of Patrick Kane and DeBrincat towards the end of the game. Coach Colliton was looking for a spark and therefore shaking up the lines. Keep an eye on where Strome slots in moving forward, and whether his presence can have a positive impact.
To Fight or Not to Fight?
When teams meet this often in a season tensions start to build. It all started on March 7, the last tilt of a three-game Lightning/Blackhawks’ series before this past two-game series. The Lightning weren’t happy with a hit Connor Murphy made on Erik Cernak. Murphy received a match penalty and was ejected from the game, but upon review he was not suspended by the NHL.
In last Thursday’s contest, Lightnings’ Barclay Goodrow tried to get Murphy to drop the gloves as retribution for the hit, and other players attempted to instigate him throughout the game. But Murphy wouldn’t bite. After the matchup, the defenseman indicated it was an important game for them, and he wanted to contribute versus spending five minutes in the box. His coach added his explanation of the situation before Saturday’s matchup. He clearly wasn’t happy with the target on Murphy’s back.
Jeremy Colliton is very upset about the Lightning trying to provoke Connor Murphy into a fight for his 3/7 hit on Erik Cernak.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) March 20, 2021
"If Hedman finishes a hard check on Murph, I don't think [Tampa is] going to love if we've got guys chasing him around the ice."
His full comments: pic.twitter.com/yUly40qDS0
The Lightning obviously didn’t like this approach. Instead, they decided to bait the Blackhawks even more Saturday afternoon. The Lightning’s Yanni Gourde delivered an unnecessary cross-check to Kane, and then baited DeBrincat into off-setting penalties as they jostled for position during a faceoff. To add insult to injury, the Bolts scored on the ensuing four-on-four play.
Later in the game Alex Killorn gloved Adam Boqvist in the face, causing him to fall awkwardly to the ice. But the Blackhawks didn’t retaliate, trying to heed their coach’s advice to stay on the ice versus sitting in the box.
There’s a fine line between when enough is enough, and many think the Blackhawks should have pushed back. Let’s face it, the game was pretty much out of reach in the second period when the Lightning went up 4-0. Would that have been a good time to let loose a little bit? Engage in a fight, or at least deliver some big hits? Sometimes that can give a team some much-needed momentum.
But on the other side of the coin, if the Blackhawks weren’t going to win maybe save it for next time? There’s one final regular season matchup between these two teams on April 27. We shall see if there’s any form of retribution then, or if all will be forgotten.
Of course the best revenge would be hard-fought win.
Lightning a Worthy Foe
It’s tough to lose games. Besides four losses to the Lightning, the Blackhawks have fallen once to the Dallas Stars and twice to the Florida Panthers in the month of March. But let’s try to put things in perspective. These are all really good teams, and the Blackhawks are staying competitive with them.
According to Charlie Roumeliotis of NBC Sports Chicago, in this last matchup “the Blackhawks generated 36 total scoring chances, which is their fourth-most in a game this season. They’ve generated at least 35 scoring chances four times this year and three of those games have been against the Lightning. The Blackhawks are 0-2-1 in those games.”
It certainly doesn’t help that Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy had the Blackhawks’ number, and also just earned his 11th straight victory. 11 straight! That’s pretty darn good, people. So instead of sulking, it’s time to take the positives and carry on. Murphy explains what the attitude needs to be moving forward.
Losses are always frustrating, but that’s a true point. When you have a few in a row it does seem to feel heavier than earlier in the season when maybe it’s just one here and there. That’s the challenge and that’s the really important part, to take positives. You never want to go into a game thinking about anything negative that happened before. You’ve got to be able to turn the page as quick as you can…Playing confident is the only way you’re going to win, so it doesn’t help to let any loss weigh on you going into future games.(from ‘Trading Dylan Strome, enduring rookie lulls, waiting on Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews: 11 Blackhawks observations’, The AthleticCHI – 3/18/21)
The Blackhawks are not only learning how to do the right things on the ice, but they’re working on maintaining the right mental attitude Murphy talks about. Hopefully they can pull their way out of this, and this adversity will come in handy for some big games down the road.
But it won’t be easy. With a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets are now ahead of the Blackhawks in points percentage in the standings. This team needs to start winning to stay in the playoff race.
Mercifully, the Blackhawks head home for the next six contests after the brutal past half dozen games on the road. But they face the Florida Panthers this coming Tuesday and Thursday. The Blackhawks are 0-3-1 against the Panthers. They’ve arguably played better against the Lightning than Joel Quenneville’s squad on the other side of the Sunshine State.
As Murphy said, all you can do is move forward and face the next challenge.