The only commonality between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning heading into Tuesday night’s match — their last meeting of the 2020-21 campaign — was that it was each club’s 49th of the year. Beyond that, these teams are on separate ends of the Discover Central Division’s spectrum.
While Tampa Bay looks to see if they can reclaim first by season’s end, Chicago just hopes to stop sliding down the standings.
As if the 7-4 loss wasn’t enough for the Blackhawks to reflect on, they also get to own being the reason the Lightning have now clinched a playoff spot. Needless to say, the game plan went as it was drawn up for one side. Just not the other.
Slow Start Stuns the Blackhawks
It didn’t take long for the Lightning to get on the board in this one; 28 seconds, to be exact. From that moment, it became clear that it was going to be one of those types of games for the Blackhawks. And that outlook certainly held up.
Tampa poured it on the rest of the way. Their initial three goals came within the game’s first 15:04, while their second set of three in the following frame accumulated within less than a seven-minute span. It didn’t even matter that they only scored an empty netter in the third, as they had locked away the rights to this win early on in the evening.
Despite the Blackhawks outshooting the Lightning 40-30, they only scored once through seven opportunities with their dried-up power play, while their recently successful penalty kill went 3/4.
There’s no doubt that Chicago looks forward to the fresh stat line that comes with the start of their next game.
Lankinen Looks to Be Lacking
Regardless of what we witness through the remainder of the 2020-21 season from Kevin Lankinen, he can rest assured that Chicago’s net is his moving forward. Nothing can negate that hot start to his professional career, which saw Lankinen right up there with the best netminders in the league. Let alone dominating this year’s rookie class conversation.
As anticipated, Lankinen’s play did eventually level off. His numbers became a little more average, with a mix of good and bad games sprinkled into his results. But, that’s ok. This wasn’t a year to be defined by heightened expectations, it was simply one in which development was the goal. For the most part, Lankinen has achieved that feat.
Tuesday was his first start in over a week, having last played on April 19 in Chicago’s 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators. Having gone that long of a stretch after being their nightly go-to clearly took its toll. Through 20:00, Lankinen allowed three goals on 11 shots for a save percentage of .727.
Obviously, that wasn’t going to be good enough. He was pulled, with Malcolm Subban starting the second, but it’s not as though their goaltending got much better the rest of the way in this one. We’ll see how he rebounds down the stretch.
Making Yet Another Debut
Their results may not have been consistent this season, but Chicago’s willingness to grant opportunities to their youth certainly has been. They’ve had quite the influx of prospects infused into their lineup throughout 2020-21 and it’s worked out well for everyone involved.
Names like Lankinen, Pius Suter, Philipp Kurashev, Brandon Hagel, and Ian Mitchell have already become known throughout Blackhawks-supporting households. And it’s only just the beginning of their promising careers. Well, we saw another newcomer get into the action against Tampa when Mike Hardman made his debut.
Hardman signed a two-year deal with the Blackhawks back in late March and was immediately moved to their taxi squad at that time. A mere few weeks later and he was into his first NHL game. Despite going pointless through 10:16 of ice time, he landed a team-high seven hits.
Getting prospects into games this year is exactly what Chicago committed to before it even began, so it’s nice to see them maintain that stance. These are important opportunities for both the player and the franchise, as the rebuild continues looking for the right blocks to form their future.
Chicago ends their season series with the Lightning having only accumulated three points with a 1-6-1 record.
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