VANCOUVER, British Columbia —In desperate need of momentum to fuel a run toward the playoffs, the Blackhawks couldn’t have asked for a much better situation and better opportunity Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
They had a one-goal lead after Nick Schmaltz scored and were on the power play early in the second period after Canucks defenseman Troy Stecher was called for holding Jonathan Toews on a bold move to the net. But instead of taking a two-goal lead, the Hawks quickly found themselves in trouble.
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After failing to score on the power play, rookie Alex DeBrincat mis-hit a puck in the neutral zone and Stecher — just out of the box — tipped the puck to teammate Brendan Gaunce for a 2-on-1 with Bo Horvat.
Gaunce kept the puck and fired a shot past Hawks goalie Anton Forsberg for a tying goal that gave the Canucks life and carried them to a 4-2 victory at Rogers Arena. For the Hawks, it seems like all it takes is one play to turn any game against them.
“It was a disappointing play on our part. That was a big, big play,” coach Joel Quenneville said after the Hawks (24-20-7) fell five points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. “We didn’t score on that power play where we had the puck. Turned into nothing and turned into something, which got them going. To me, that was a big play of the game.”
The disappointing loss against the seventh-place Canucks (21-24-6) snapped a modest two-game winning streak and kept the Hawks spinning their wheels in their attempt to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons. The Hawks have not won more than two consecutive games since Dec. 17.
“It’s a game we need to have,” DeBrincat said. “A few breakdowns in the second period cost us.”
After the Hawks fell behind 3-1 in the third period, DeBrincat scored his 18th goal of the season to cut the deficit to one goal with 9:41 left in regulation. But he was left to rue the mis-play that led to Gaunce’s tying goal.
“Be smart with the puck,” he said when asked what he could have done differently. “I’m not sure what happened. Put it in a better area. There’s a lot I could have done with that.”
The loss typified the Hawks’ struggle to gain traction in their second-half run to the playoffs. They could neither extend a lead nor erase a deficit. After DeBrincat’s goal made it 3-2, the Hawks had another power-play when Jake Virtanen was called for tripping at 12:39. But that power play fizzled and Gaunce scored on a tip-in at 17:02 to give the Canucks a 4-2 lead.
“We want to win every game, so we didn’t win —it’s disappointing,” Toews said. “We had the right kind of desperation in the third — we’re within one goal. It seems like we’re just giving up too much easy offense against when we’re down a goal or two. Even though we’re crating a ton of offense, we’ve have to be better defensively. Forwards and [defensemen], we’ve got to be better and know that even if we’re giving up the odd chance, we can’t give up quality the way we did tonight.”
Further frustrating for the Hawks, the Canucks parlayed net-front presence into their final three goals —re-directed shots in front of Forsberg by Horvat in the second period and Daniel Sedin early in the third that gave the Canucks a 3-1 lead, before Gaunce’s tip-in that all but clinched it.Those are goals the Hawks crave.
“More and more we’re getting guys to the front of the net,” Toews said, “we’ve just got to find ways to not only get our shots through, but find ways to get those second efforts, those loose pucks laying around there.”
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