Blackhawks’ defense, goaltending unravel late in loss to Rangers

Robin Lehner conceded five goals in the third period as the Hawks dropped to 1-7-0 in their last eight games.

SHARE Blackhawks’ defense, goaltending unravel late in loss to Rangers
Robin Lehner made 35 saves but allowed six goals Wednesday against the Rangers.

Robin Lehner made 35 saves but allowed six goals Wednesday against the Rangers.

Paul Beaty/AP

Robin Lehner is officially slumping.

The Blackhawks’ defense did him no favors — it, too, showed little composure in the crease or fortitude against momentum — but Lehner nonetheless allowed five goals in the third period as the Hawks lost 6-3 to the Rangers on Wednesday.

“One of the worst third periods — or worst periods in general — we’ve had,” Lehner said. “I would say ‘collapse.’ Look at their goals: a lot of alone chances right in front. We got out-battled. I need to make an extra save, but, honestly, that period was not very good.”

It was the Hawks’ seventh loss in their last eight games, and Lehner’s fourth loss in his last five starts. The outspoken goaltender has an .888 save percentage during that span after stopping 35 of 41 shots against the Rangers.

Lehner’s first downturn since joining the Hawks comes at a fascinating time, with the trade deadline fast approaching and his status as an impending unrestricted free agent attracting more attention. He admitted after the game that the outside noise is “for sure” having an impact on his focus.

For coach Jeremy Colliton, though, the loss is part of a broader problem.

“We didn’t prepare well enough,” he said. “This time of year, it’s about 90 percent mental. Physically, you are what you are. You’ve got to prepare yourself mentally to do what you need to do, and the body will kick in.”

The Hawks were tied 1-1 and coming off a relatively strong second period when they unraveled.

They allowed 27 shots, 19 shots on goal and 11 high-danger scoring chances (vs. just six through the first two periods) in the third.

“There are mental mistakes, and there are physical mistakes,” forward Drake Caggiula said. “There are times you have to think the game and make plays and get the puck out of the zone. That’s something that we’re struggling with. We have to find a way to be better in our own zone all together.’’

Smith’s hand improving

When forward Zack Smith looked over and saw Elias Pettersson step on him last week in Vancouver, his first thoughts were panicked.

“I was like, ‘That’s not good,’ ” he said Wednesday, thinking back. “You feel a skate blade step on your hand, you know it’s not going to look good.”

He threw off his glove and hustled to the bench and down the tunnel, just beating the masses retreating to the locker room for the second intermission. Quickly, though, the Hawks’ medical staff passed along good news.

“Right away, doctors were able to tell me, ‘It’s going to be fine, just a few stitches,’ ” he said.

The cut that came “probably a millimeter away from being the end of my season” has turned out to be a minor issue. 

“I thought he broke his wrist or something; we didn’t really know in the moment,” Colliton said. “But when you hear what happened and see the cut, it’s not a good situation. So obviously happy that it’s not too serious.”

Smith was given a timeline of seven to 10 days last week. He missed his third consecutive game — seven days after the injury — but skated on his own Tuesday, then participated partially in the team’s morning skate. 

His hand was taped under his glove during the skate, but he said it was feeling better, and he seems likely to return soon.

Gustafsson trade buzz

Despite Lehner’s struggles, defenseman Erik Gustafsson remains the most likely Hawk to be dealt before the trade deadline Monday.

At least four teams reportedly have shown interest in Gustafsson.

The Latest
The First Lady called sophomore Kate Foley, 15, and invited the engineering student to sit in the first lady’s box.
Not only does Vucevic hope the “Big Three” remains intact at the trade deadline Thursday, but he also is open to a contract extension to stay with the Bulls beyond this season.
The debate included many personal attacks, mainly directed toward and between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and ex-Chicago schools boss Paul Vallas. Rep. Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia was in Washington for the State of the Union address.
President Joe Biden’s speech laid the groundwork for what may be his 2024 re-election campaign by highlighting the considerable successes of his first two years.
The dogs were taken to separate veterinary clinics where one succumbed to its injuries, officials said.