Blackhawks squander two-goal lead, lose eighth straight game

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Lance Bouma hits the ice after colliding with Anaheim’s Cam Fowler in front of John Gibson on Thursday night. (Getty Images)

For a team in desperate search of something to feel good about, Thursday’s game against the Ducks couldn’t have started much better.

Nine minutes into the second period, the Blackhawks led by two. Duncan Keith had scored his first goal since March 16, ending an unthinkable drought that spanned 169 shots on goal. Brandon Saad had scored his first goal in 17 games. And in coach Joel Quenneville’s eyes, the Hawks had played a “perfect game” up to that point.

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Then the Hawks did what the Hawks do — and what they never used to do. They made two careless mistakes with the puck, they coughed up a lead, they deflated and they lost 3-2.

“I don’t know if it’s the situation we’re in or what, but it seems like we’re lacking that confidence,” Saad said. “We’re getting leads, too. But for some reason, we’re not holding on to it. . . . Sometimes when it rains, it pours. And it’s kind of snowballing in the wrong direction.”

That snowball has gotten awfully big. This was the Hawks’ seventh consecutive home loss and their eighth consecutive loss overall, their longest since a nine-game skid during the 2011-12 season. Of course, that year, the Hawks had a big-enough cushion to remain comfortably in the playoffs. This streak has effectively ended their season.

The Hawks scored the first goal for the 10th time in their last 13 games. They’re 2-6-2 in those games. Their trademark killer instinct is gone, replaced with trepidation and an uneasy expectation that whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

“It just seems like that’s the way it’s been going,” Keith said. “I mean, if we give up a goal, it seems like we might get down on ourselves or something, and it kind of snowballs. And that’s where we have to dig in and bear down and battle a little harder.”

Really, it was only two bad plays in the offensive zone that doomed the Hawks in this one. Forty-one seconds after Saad’s goal, Connor Murphy fumbled the puck at the blue line and fell, allowing the Ducks to take the puck the other way and get a Nick Ritchie goal on a backhander. Two minutes later, Michal Kempny passed it right to Adam Henrique in the offensive zone, and Henrique immediately sprung Ondrej Kase for a breakaway goal.

Just like that, 2-0 became 2-2, and all the good vibes were gone.

“Both their goals, you had everything you want,” Quenneville said. “You had cycle, you had possession and you had zone time. . . . Two plays where we had them right where we want them, and they end up in our net. They’re self-inflicted wounds.”

In a season of ever-diminishing standards, the Hawks took solace in the fact that they didn’t roll over at that point. Ryan Hartman woke up the crowd late in the second period with maybe the most thunderous hit of the season — a shoulder drilled into Jakob Silfverberg’s chest.

Hartman was immediately jumped by three Ducks, and though he was inexplicably handed a roughing minor despite refusing to engage, he did get the Hawks a power play out of it. But they didn’t score on it, and Henrique got the game-winner at 8:34 of the third period, when he whacked in a centering feed from Kase.

The Hawks fought to the end and forced John Gibson to make 42 saves — including a huge pad stop on Saad with 1:12 left and one at the horn on Patrick Kane, who has one goal in his last 12 games.

It was better. But in this most challenging of seasons, one thing is abundantly clear: The Hawks still don’t have the talent to overcome mistakes, nor do they have the mental toughness to overcome adversity.

“It’s been definitely unique in a lot of ways,” Keith said of the season as a whole. “But nobody’s quitting in here. We’re battling.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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