VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Entering the season, it was easy to imagine a sizable number of games playing out the way the Blackhawks’ last two have: dynamic offense from Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews (both of whom scored again Thursday) and the rest of the forwards offset by a defense struggling to match the speed of the modern NHL.
High scores, such as a 5-3 victory Tuesday against the Flames and a 7-5 loss Thursday to the Canucks, seemed likely to be plentiful.
The Hawks’ inexplicable offensive struggles — outside of Kane, that is — and world-class goaltending prevented that from coming to fruition in the first few months. But that consistently thrilling, heart-pounding hockey finally is starting to transpire.
“We have a lot of offense in here, we have the ability to score goals,” Kane said. “It’s just being committed to defense and creating that way on the transition, by turnovers and backchecking. We can be really good when we play like that. I thought we did that for the most part tonight.”
The Hawks scored three goals in four minutes early in the second period to take a 4-2 edge Thursday, then surrendered two goals in a minute and a half. The Canucks took the lead with 12 minutes left in the third, but the Hawks answered with six minutes left. The Canucks reclaimed the lead for good with four minutes left.
For as sharp and dangerous as Kane, Dominik Kubalik (three assists) and the rest of the Hawks’ attack looked, their defense revealed itself to be just as porous. Dennis Gilbert looked noticeably lost for one of the first times in his Cinderella season, and Duncan Keith was on the ice for a team-high 14 scoring chances against.
“If you give up six, you’re going to lose,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We feel we can score. The focus will continue to be on defending. When we managed the puck and took care of it, we were really good. They got a lot of their stuff off just turning the puck over and found a way to score.”
The loss stung, considering the multigoal lead the Hawks let slip away and the spirited effort they wasted. But the team might succeed more often not with this style. The offense has averaged 3.9 goals in the Hawks’ last seven games, and they return to Chicago for a four-game homestand riding a 5-2-0 surge.
As long as goalie Robin Lehner can stay healthy — he took three alarming knocks that he skated off, and his right knee was wrapped in ice after the game — the Hawks’ outlook remains promising.
“That was a really weird game,” Lehner said. “We deserved better. Every goal was just two tips, two [went] off our own bodies. It just felt like everything they kind of threw to the net went their way. ... But we’ve just got to recover, regroup and hit the next one.”