Jonathan Bernier ends Blackhawks’ win streak at seven games

For more than two minutes early in the second period Thursday night, the Blackhawks set up shop in the offensive zone and toyed with the Anaheim Ducks. Loaded up with five of their best players after a successful penalty kill, they flung the puck around, tape to tape, without losing possession. They tried a give-and-go or two, they cycled along the boards. Brent Seabrook made a kick save at the blue line to hold the zone, and Duncan Keith gloved another desperate clearing attempt at the other point.

Jonathan Toews was on the ice for 2 minutes, 54 seconds that shift. Keith for 2:20. Artemi Panarin for 2:04, Seabrook for 1:54, and Patrick Kane for 1:43. It was a master class in puck possession.

And it yielded nothing. Just one shot on goal, three more attempts that were blocked, and nary a goal. Sometimes, the other guy’s just better.

Jonathan Bernier made 43 saves to all but singlehandedly snap the Hawks’ win streak at seven games in a 1-0 Anaheim victory at the United Center.

Ryan Getzlaf and Richard Panik tangle in the first period Thursday night at the United Center. (Getty Images)

“We did a lot of good things,” Keith said. “But still, it obviously wasn’t good enough.”

It was a wasted opportunity in the wake of the Minnesota Wild’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier in the night. The Wild remain one point up in the Central Division (and the Western Conference) with a game in hand.

The loss kicked off a frantic home stretch in which the Hawks will play 17 games in 31 days. And while the four days off that preceded it were a welcome bit of rest before the playoff push, it seemed to have the same effect as the bye week last month. Just like in the 3-1 loss to Edmonton out of that six-day break, the Hawks were fresh but not exactly sharp offensively. The effort was there, the finish was not.

Joel Quenneville lamented the shot selection and lack of hunger around the goalmouth, but Corey Crawford (25 saves) tipped his hat to Bernier.

“Bernier made a bunch of saves,” Crawford said. “I mean, we played well. We had good looks. We just weren’t getting some bounces.”

Nobody in the Hawks room sounded too upset by the loss, and it’s hard to blame them. They were utterly dominant for most of the game, outshooting the Ducks 19-2 in the first period alone. But Bernier made big stops on Tanner Kero and Ryan Hartman in the opening minutes, and never let up from there.

The lone goal of the game was a gut-punch for the Hawks. Late in the second period, Kero thought he had scored off a Marian Hossa shot in a crowded crease, raising his arms in celebration. But the official waved it off and play continued. Just 10 seconds later, Corey Perry beat Crawford from the slot and the Ducks — despite being outshot 30-14 at the time — had a 1-0 lead. Panarin and Toews had good chances in the final minutes of the third period with Crawford pulled for an extra attacker — the Hawks have scored four such goals this season — but Bernier was simply too good.

So despite their dominance, the highlight of the game to that point for the Hawks might have been the comical sight of Nick Schmaltz — having lost a skate blade — stumbling to the bench like a newborn calf, with Panarin giving him a needed push with a stick to the backside.

The Hawks should need no such push down the stretch, with the Wild — and the top seed in the Western Conference — well within reach. But should they fail to pull out the division title, Thursday’s dominant — but fruitless — effort might stick out as an opportunity lost.

“Their goalie was very good, and certainly was a factor,” Quenneville said. “[But] you’ve got to fin a way to get one.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus