Hossa’s miss sets the tone in a rough Game 3 loss for the Blackhawks

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It looked like a cave opening. Or a train tunnel. Mostly it looked like the path to victory.

This was the first period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and the net was as empty as an abandoned storefront. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop was off somewhere chasing the ghost of shots past, and the Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa had the puck on his stick in the slot. By himself. With no one in the vicinity.

And somehow, some way, he missed to the left of the net as he was falling down. Was Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty on Hossa simply to blame for the miss? Or was it something more sinister? Black magic? The Cubs?

It felt like a turning point. It felt like bad news at the doctor’s office. The Hawks battled back from a 1-0 deficit, took the lead, gave it back and ended up losing 3-2. Did Hossa’s miss decide Monday’s game? No, but it put a serious dent in it.

The Hawks trail Tampa Bay 2-1 in the Final, and if they lose the series, they surely will look back and wince at the memory of a puck not going where it should have in the first period.

“I tried to fake a shot and cut in the middle, and basically when I tried to release the puck, I somehow tripped and the puck slipped funny and I just missed the net,’’ Hossa said.

Making the miss more painful was the sight of Bishop laboring through Game 3 with unspecified physical problems.

“There was so (much) of the game left, so obviously I didn’t think about it,’’ Hossa said of the shot. “It happened and I tried to move on and play the game. I could do nothing about it.’’

He was right. Of course he was right. So many things happened after his miss that you can’t pin Monday’s loss on him. But he’s certainly a person of interest in the investigation.

Thirteen seconds after the Hawks had taken a 2-1 lead on Brandon Saad’s goal in the third, Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat scored when Crawford couldn’t cover the puck with his glove. A brutal, lightning-quick chain of events.

Tampa Bay won it on Cedric Paquette’s goal in front of the goalmouth with three minutes, 11 seconds left in the game.

“Two games in a row we had the lead,’’ Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Short leads both times.’’

You want good news? OK, good news. The Blackhawks trail this series 2-1, and any of the games could have gone either way. And if you recall, the Hawks trailed the Bruins 2-1 in 2013 and went on to win the Cup.

Now back to our regularly scheduled grimness. Things couldn’t have started worse for the Hawks on Monday. Crawford gave up a bad goal high to the glove side to Ryan Callahan about five minutes into the game, giving Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead. Granted, it was a slap shot with heavy steam behind it, but it was one Crawford had to stop.

Then came the missed shot heard ’round Chicago. But the miss by Hossa, one of the team’s most reliable players, seemed to energize his teammates. And that made sense. They should be intensely loyal to someone who works so hard on offense and defense. They should try to wipe away his guilt.

So the Hawks started pelting Bishop as if he were sitting above a dunk tank. Finally, it paid off on a wonderful power play in the first period, with Brad Richards beating Bishop with a shot from inside the blue line. And guess who got an assist? Yep, Hossa. Tie game.

And guess who got an assist on Saad’s goal in the third? Yep, Hossa.

There were other highlights for the Hawks, just not enough of them.

The biggest boost came late in the second, when they stood tall while the Lightning had a two-man advantage. With Bryan Bickell already in the box, Saad was called for goalie interference after colliding with Bishop on a rush to the net. Tampa Bay had opportunities on the power play but skated away with nothing to show for them. After the 5-on-3, Crawford got a standing ovation and heard chants of “Cor-ey, Cor-ey’’ from the crowd. Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marcus Kruger deserved some of the applause for their work on the kill.

No one knows what is bothering Bishop, though Patrick Kane tried to break it down medically: “It looks like he’s favoring something down there.’’

Kane and Jonathan Toews have yet to score in this series. Game 4 on Wednesday would be a good time to start.

“I thought we played a pretty solid game, but we have to give them credit,’’ Hossa said. “They’re a great team. We did pretty good, but a few mistakes cost us a puck in our net.’’

And a puck that didn’t go in the Tampa Bay net.


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