Start with the positives. The Blackhawks were fully engaged in Wednesday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. They played a solid all-around game and fought frantically until the very end, falling 3-2 to a red-hot team that made a few brilliant saves and took advantage of a fortunate bounce on the game-winning goal.
But it’s mid-March. The regular season ends in 24 days. And it was the Hawks’ fourth straight loss.
It’s far too late for moral victories.
“For the most part we played better than we did the other night [a 5-0 loss to Los Angeles], that’s for sure,” Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “It’s something we can build off. But we’ve got to start getting points here.”
The Hawks were left kicking themselves over two squandered one-goal leads, a couple of golden opportunities late that were denied by Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth, two shots that hit the post, and a 5-on-3 power play in the first period that could have changed the complexion of the game.
“We’re knocking on the door, but we’ve got to start burying some of those,” Seabrook said.
The Hawks were buzzing early, with the new-look top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane generating several chances on its first shift. But it was the beleaguered penalty-killing unit that got the Hawks on the board first, as Marian Hossa scored the 497th goal of his career on a shorthanded breakaway sprung by an Artem Anisimov pass at 8:18 of the first.
Then came a chance to go for the early kill, as the Flyers took penalties seven seconds apart. But despite nearly two full minutes of 5-on-3 time, the Hawks came up empty. The Flyers did a good job of reading the Hawks’ go-to set play between Kane and Artemi Panarin, Seabrook fired wide on a big shot, and Neuvirth stopped a Panarin one-timer. The Hawks have now been held off the scoreboard on 14 straight power plays, dropping them from the top spot in the league.
The kill shifted momentum, and Philadelphia tied it with a power-play goal of its own, as Ryan White’s skate tipped an Andrew MacDonald shot from the blue line past Scott Darling.
“It’s an area that has been good for us this year,” Kane said of the two-man power play. “We had a couple chances, but nothing like we’d like to create with a full two minutes. We had to chase the puck a couple times and didn’t really get it set up the way we wanted. Disappointed not to cash in.”
Another good shift by the top line put the Hawks back on top at 4:58 of the second period, as Toews followed his own wraparound attempt to make it 2-1. Kane had the lone assist on the goal, giving him a league-leading 90 points — the most by a Hawks player since Jeremy Roenick had 107 in 1993-94.
But once again, the Flyers responded. After Shayne Gostisbehere and Andrew Desjardins traded shots off the crossbar, Brayden Schenn scored off a beautiful spin-o-rama pass by Claude Giroux on a 2-on-1. The rush began with an ill-advised pinch by Niklas Hjalmarsson, who tried stickhandling through traffic and lost the puck.
Hossa had another breakaway in the third period, but was denied by Michal Neuvirth. Less than two minutes later, Radko Gudas’ shot took a fortuitous bounce off Christian Ehrhoff’s stick and bounced past Darling, putting the Flyers on top for the first time, and for good. Neuvirth had another big save on Kane with 5:03 left as the Hawks made one last, desperate, and ultimately futile push.
“If you play like that, you’ll find a way to win games going forward,” Joel Quenneville said.
It was better. But yet again, it wasn’t good enough.
“I don’t want to say it’s panic time, but at the same time, we have to shore things up before the playoffs come into play here,” Kane said. “We have 11 games to do that. We need to start playing the right way now. You could say tonight was a step in the right direction. But we still didn’t find a way to win, so not good enough.”
The Flyers, afterthoughts for much of the season, have barged their way into the Eastern Conference playoff picture with an 8-1-1 run. The Hawks, meanwhile. have fallen out of first place in the Central Division with sluggish play of late.
“We’ve been ordinary for a stretch here,” Quenneville before the game, using one of his harshest adjectives. “You lose three games to key opponents fighting for the same space, you lose a lot of ground. We put ourselves in a big hole here. We were in a great spot a while ago, now we’re chasing it. So it’s up to us to put ourselves back in the place where we want to be. Finding ways to win is what it’s all about.”