Though the Chicago Blackhawks pretty much have no chance of making this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Saturday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights provided some playoff-like energy. For the first 40 minutes at T-Mobile Arena, momentum was on Chicago’s side against the injury-depleted-yet-desperate Golden Knights. Up 3-0 after two periods, the Blackhawks seemed to have a good chance to sweep their three-game Pacific Division road trip and head back to the Windy City on a high note.
Much of that energy quickly derailed in the third period. Vegas tied the game just over three minutes into the final frame, and while Alex DeBrincat made the score 4-3 Chicago almost nine minutes into the third, the Golden Knights tied it just 47 seconds later. Then, none other than forward Evgenii Dadonov sealed the deal in overtime, giving Vegas a 5-4 win on home ice.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s overtime loss in Sin City.
Lankinen Loses Confidence
Like the rest of his teammates, goaltender Kevin Lankinen looked solid through the first two periods. He stopped all 18 of the Golden Knights’ shots, and had a few impressive saves, including one on forward Mattias Janmark midway through the second. It was the third period, however, where Lankinen faltered.
By no means was the Blackhawks’ third-period collapse entirely Lankinen’s fault. The Golden Knights were simply the better team down the stretch, and led Chicago 12-10 in high-danger scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. However, Lankinen looked uncomfortable, and he seemed to lack effort while giving up Vegas’ first two goals of their comeback. Those came early in the third, courtesy of forwards Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson.
With Marc-André Fleury now gone, the Blackhawks are at a crossroads with their goaltending. Lankinen and California native Collin Delia form Chicago’s current tandem, while prospects Arvid Söderblom and Drew Commesso wait in the wings. It’s unclear how general manager Kyle Davidson will address the position next year, as the 26-year-old Finnish netminder is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Based on his performance today, it’s hard to see him becoming a fixture of Chicago’s rebuild. With the loss, Lankinen fell to 4-8-5 on the season, and he stopped 29 of 34 shots faced on Saturday.
Personally, I’ve always rooted for Lankinen. Because he’s still relatively young, it’s possible Davidson may keep him around. Likewise, he could turn into an effective backup, or even a starter for another team. If there’s one thing Lankinen’s lacked this season, though, it’s consistency, and Saturday’s game showed just that.
DeBrincat, Strome, Kane Continue Rolling
Chicago’s top line of DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Patrick Kane put on a good performance despite the loss. They combined for six of the Blackhawks’ 10 high-danger chances while outshooting the Golden Knights 19-6 in overall scoring chances. Along with his game-tying goal, DeBrincat contributed an assist, while Strome tallied a goal and an assist. Finally, Kane recorded his 57th assist of the season off DeBrincat’s third-period goal, which puts him 17 ahead of Seth Jones for the team lead. The 33-year-old is on an 11-game road assist streak, five games shy of Wayne Gretzky’s league record of 16 games back in the 1984-85 season.
Right now it seems like mostly a lock that DeBrincat will stick around during the rebuild, as he’s just 24 and has plenty of time to keep developing before the Blackhawks contend again. While anything’s possible, it’s also hard to see Kane going anywhere. Strome’s a little bit of a different story, as he’s set to become a restricted free agent (RFA) after this season, and has a $3.6 million qualifying offer. His future in Chicago is a little uncertain, but it might not be a bad idea for the Blackhawks to keep him because of his consistency with the aforementioned duo.
As Chicago continues playing for pride, its top line has provided a spark over the last month. This should give fans a reason to keep watching games, even if it’s just a short-term fix.
Kubalik’s Early Statement
After getting scratched on Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings, Dominik Kubalik responded in a big way on Saturday afternoon. The 26-year-old forward, who has struggled in his third season with the Blackhawks, scored the game-opening goal about halfway through the first period off assists from Jake McCabe and Jonathan Toews. Being a heavy source of trade speculation leading up to Monday’s deadline, Kubalik told NHL on ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan at the first intermission that while getting scratched wasn’t a fun situation, it provided some motivation, which was evident in Saturday’s game.
Along with his goal, Kubalik finished with five shots and was a plus-2 in 16:47 of time on ice (TOI). He has 23 points, including 12 goals, in 65 games this season. His goal broke a nine-game drought dating back to March 3 against the Edmonton Oilers, a 4-3 Chicago overtime win, and was just his third in his last 22 games.
It’s hard to say whether Kubalik will be a part of Chicago’s future, as he’s also an RFA after this season. Compared to Strome, I’d say it’s a little more unlikely he stays around, but a productive final month could change that picture. Conversely, it could also improve his value should the Blackhawks try to move him come this year’s NHL Draft or over the offseason.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they were on the wrong side of Golden Knights’ history on Saturday. Vegas’ win marked its first time in 58 games that the club had come back after trailing by three or more goals heading into the third period. The Blackhawks are now 2-6-3 against the Golden Knights all-time. The two teams are set to face off again on April 27 for their season-series finale, Chicago’s second-to-last game of the regular season.
Chicago returns to action Monday against the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m. CST.
Connor Smith covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. He is from Naperville, Illinois, and recently graduated from Ball State University in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, earning summa cum laude honors. This fall, he plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago to further his studies and earn his master’s. Along with The Hockey Writers, he’s written and edited for The Ball State Daily News, Ball State’s on-campus student newspaper, and has interned for Best Version Media (BVM) Sports and Jersey Column, a Georgia-based sports blog. You can find more info about Smith and his work through his online portfolio, connornsmith0719.wordpress.com.