SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Blackhawks showed some fight Sunday with their best effort of this three-game California swing, and as they’ve found lately, it’s still not good enough to take down playoff teams.
The Sharks broke a tie game early in the third period on their way to a 5-2 win over the Hawks at SAP Center, dropping them to 1-2 on the trip with the only victory being a sloppy one over the lowly Ducks. They fly home eight points out of the wild card with 16 games to play.
It was better than their pitiful play in a loss to Los Angeles on Saturday, but trying harder in San Jose didn’t get them any closer to the playoffs.
“We looked like a hockey team tonight, which was a difference from the night before,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “That’s a very good team and they weren’t going to give us anything for free.
“Over 60 minutes, I can’t really fault the effort, and the compete level and the attention to detail was much better… If we would have played tonight like we did last night, we would have got embarrassed. So I was pleased that we came to play. “
The Hawks’ defense was dicey, as usual, but Cam Ward made several big saves to keep them in it until the third. Ward hadn’t played in a week because of Corey Crawford’s return and totaled 29 saves on 33 shots.
Early goals by Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson kept it 2-2 in the third period before a defense lapse led to Marcus Sorensen’s goal with about 15 minutes remaining. Joe Thornton got around Artem Anisimov and fed Sorensen in the middle of the ice as Brent Seabrook was a moment late picking him up.
Colliton pulled Ward with a three minutes left and his team down 4-2, but the Hawks couldn’t get a good scoring chance and Melker Karlsson put one in the empty net from center ice.
For the second game in a row, the Hawks did not get a goal from the high-scoring trio of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat.
Their playoff hopes chances will likely get worse leading up to their next game, a matchup with the Sabres on Thursday, with the rest of the wild-card competitors playing Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Doesn’t matter what happens, you have to keep that optimism,” Toews said. “The only way you want to go into any game is with that attitude that good things are going to happen; you’re going to work hard and it’s going to pay off.
“You believe in each other, you believe you have the guys in the room to do the job, as I’ve said before. That’s all we can worry about.”
DeBrincat pushes through defeats
DeBrincat didn’t endure much losing until he got to the Blackhawks, and he’s ecstatic to be in the playoff race after a rough season and a half to start his career.
The Hawks were 42-57-15 with DeBrincat when they hit bottom in mid-December, but put themselves back in the mix after the All-Star break. They’re eight points out of the wild card, but have stayed close enough that these games matter.
“Every game means so much for us at this point, and it’s easier to get up for that,” DeBrincat said. “The game seemed to get a little bit faster right around when we got back in the race. It was fun to play.”
DeBrincat’s progress was big in making the team competitive again, and he went into Sunday second with 36 goals. He also leads in power-play goals at 12.
In 33 games since the Hawks began their turnaround, DeBrincat has 24 goals and 16 assists.
Perlini gets going
Brendan Perlini hasn’t earned much of a role since coming to the Hawks from the Coyotes in an early-season trade, but he scored two goals against the Kings and has gotten an extended look with Drake Caggiula out.
“He’s got the ability to score,” Colliton said. “It’s the same speech I’ve had with him a few times: I’m not so concerned about whether the pucks go in the net. I feel that’ll take care of itself.
“It’s the play away from the puck. It’s the pressure on the puck. It’s the work ethic. It’s the 50-50s around the lines. That’s what allows you to have positive shifts, so if he does that, then he’ll get his chances.”
More lineup changes
Colliton initially replaced Caggiula on the top line with Brandon Saad, but that left minimal scoring beyond the Hawks’ first two groups. He shifted Saad back to the third line against the Sharks and bumped veteran Chris Kunitz up to Line 1 with Kane and Toews.
“Kunitz did a really good job on that line,” Colliton said. “Gave us some good shifts and made some plays and he battles hard, he competes hard, his habits are excellent. So he’s a guy who can step in there and kind of play like Caggiula.”
Caggiula has been out since suffering a concussion Wednesday against the Ducks. He traveled with the team to San Jose, but Colliton said there was no update on his condition.
Colliton also gave Slater Koekkoek the night off as a healthy scratch after eight consecutive games in the lineup. Carl Dahlstrom, who sat three of the previous four games, took his spot.