Talk about a buzz-kill.
Blackhawks fans were still celebrating Brandon Saad’s tie-breaking goal, still watching the replay on the video board a the United Center when disaster struck.
Just 13 seconds after Saad scored to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead early in the third period Monday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning responded like a champion. Nikita Kucherov aggressively attacked, outracing Johnny Oduya just enough to backhand a shot on Corey Crawford from a deep angle. Ondrej Palat, in better position in front of the net, beat Oduya to the loose puck and shoved it past Crawford for a 2-2 tie.
Suddenly, the United Center was strangely, eerily and suddenly quiet.
It was just one of those things.
“A great goal,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
“A weird play,” Crawford said.
“An unlucky goal,” forward Marian Hossa said. “It happens.”
That wasn’t the only difference in the Hawks’ 3-2 loss to Lighting in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final —just the one that had the most familiar ring to it. This was the ninth time the Hawks had allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring one in the 2015 playoffs. And the second time already in the Final. In Game 2 at Amalie Arena, Kucherov scored a tying goal 1:32 after Teuvo Teravainen had given the Hawks a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal.
“It’s frustrating,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “I think a lot of things that we did [in Game 3] gave us the feeling we were going to come out on top with the effort that we gave. Just a couple of bad habits that ended up hurtin’ us. We’re responsible for that.”
Nobody’s perfect, but the Lightning’s quick-response goal was a lapse unbecoming a team playing for a championship. That’s one of those moments that could end up being an illustration of one team wanting it more.
Toews and the Hawks pride themselves on being that team. And there’s still time to prove that. In the Hawks world, it’s still early (they’re now 30-30 in the Games 1-3 of a playoff series under Joel Quenneville; and 40-14 in Games 4-7). No wonder, then, that Toews was emphatic when asked if giving up the lead and frittering critical momentum so quickly was a red flag.
“No,” he said. “We make mistakes. It happens. We’ll improve on it and move on. That’s all we can do right now.”
With 15:33 left in the game, the Hawks still had plenty of time to recover and win the game. “It shouldn’t [have affected us],” forward Brad Richards said. “It’s 2-2 in the Stanley Cup Final. We’re not going to quit and go home because they tied it.”
But eventually, it was the Lightning that made the difference. Cedric Paquette’s goal with 3:11 left in the third period was the game-winner. The crushing goal, though, was Palat’s.
“It was just a weird play,” Crawford said. “It was a little chip in front. Bouncy play. I tried to get it and he came in at the same time with his stick. It was a 50-/50 puck. I didn’t lose the puck. It bounced around. Then I found it, thought I had time to cover it up and then [Palat] came in.”
Coach Joel Quenneville chose to give credit where it was due. The Hawks’ Andrew Shaw — part of the fourth line that was on the ice after Saad’s goal —actually won the center-ice faceoff. But when Niklas Hjalmarsson backhanded the puck along the boards through the neutral zone to Marcus Kruger, Lightning defenseman Matt Carle was there to poke it away.
The loose puck went to Tyler Johnson, who quickly passed to Kucherov. Like the Hawks, these guys know what they’re doing when they see an opportunity developing. It’s not like the Hawks beat themselves with a brain cramp.
“It was a great play,” Quenneville said. “All of a sudden you get momentum. Two games we had the lead, but short-lived both times. Two tough losses in a row.”
All the Hawks know is that they have to be better. They usually are when it comes down to it.
“That’s a key situation in the game — momentum,” forward Marian Hossa said. “And when we’ve got the lead, we would like to keep it as long as possible. It’s tough when they score right on the next shift. Just have to learn from it and get ready for the next game.”
That’s all there is to it. Hard to blame the Hawks for passing it off as a bad habit they have to kick.
“Things happen,” said Richards, whose third goal of the playoffs tied the game 1-1 in the first period. “The other team wants to score too after that. I know it has happened a lot to us after a goal and we’ve addressed it. Sometimes, that’s just hockey.”