Defenseman Duncan Keith injured as Blackhawks hammered by speedy Avalanche
The Hawks will be without Keith for the rematch Saturday in Denver, while the Avs might get star Mikko Rantanen back.
A season-high crowd of 21,822 at the United Center witnessed a momentum-killing Friday afternoon for the Blackhawks.
The 5-2 loss to the high-flying Avalanche, whom the Hawks will face Saturday in Denver, was best exemplified by a sequence halfway through the second period.
The play started innocuously enough, with captain Jonathan Toews losing an offensive-zone draw. Then it turned weird, with husky Valeri Nichushkin — who had scored only once in his last 93 games — blowing past defensemen Duncan Keith and Erik Gustafsson like an Olympic speed skater. Then it became backbreaking, with Nichushkin burying his breakaway past goalie Corey Crawford to give the Avalanche a 4-1 lead.
The play might have proved to be potentially costly in the long term, too. Keith tweaked an apparent groin injury while trying to chase down Nichushkin, didn’t return to the game and promptly was ruled out for the rematch Saturday, too.
Coach Jeremy Colliton said he didn’t know when Keith might return.
‘‘It’s opportunity for guys to show they can do more for us,’’ Colliton said, putting a positive spin on the injury. ‘‘Every team in the league goes through it, and we’re going to go through it. We’ve got to find a way to get points anyway.’’
The issue is that the Hawks already were using the depth-guys-stepping-up narrative all week, replacing concussed forwards Dylan Strome and Drake Caggiula with call-ups Matthew Highmore and Anton Wedin.
Now they’re resorting to a defenseman call-up, too. Ian McCoshen, a taxi-squad veteran acquired last month from the Panthers, will join the Hawks on their trip to Denver. Either he or Slater Koekkoek will step into Keith’s spot Saturday. (Highmore was sent back to Rockford.)
‘‘I’m not sure the game plan changes,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘They’ve got some speed. We have to slow them down. We have to be ready in transition. We have to manage the puck better. You feed their offense when you throw pucks away or turn it over in key areas.’’
The Hawks had significant advantages in shots (64-42) and shots on goal (36-23), but those numbers belied the speed and talent the Avs displayed.
The preseason Central Division favorites looked as though they were playing on a different surface than the Hawks’ sluggish defense. They took a 1-0 lead in less than a minute and a 2-0 lead in less than four.
‘‘You give up a goal that early, it creates momentum for them and gets us back on our heels a little bit,’’ Hawks wing Zack Smith said. ‘‘So it’s always tough when they score that early. We got to be a little more resilient.’’
The Hawks’ two goals were bright spots. Smith finally scored his first since joining the Hawks in an offseason trade, and Patrick Kane extended his point streak to 14 games. But the crowd was otherwise eerily silent throughout as the Hawks limped through their first throwaway game in weeks.
And while they will try to adjust Saturday without Keith, the Avs might get Mikko Rantanen — one-third of their usual first line with Nathan MacKinnon (four points Friday) and the also-injured Gabriel Landeskog — back from a five-week absence.
Hockey is an unpredictable sport, but that logically will tilt the scale even more.
‘‘You don’t want to sit on that game too long, so we’ve got a chance to get it back [Saturday],’’ Smith said. ‘‘It’s not an easy place to play, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.’’