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Blackhawks on brink of elimination after Game 3 loss to Golden Knights

The Knights’ defense and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury again shut down the Hawks’ offense Saturday.

Marc-Andre Fleury, filling in for Robin Lehner, starred in the Golden Knights’ Game 3 win.
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

After playing three games against it in five days, the Blackhawks have gained a strong understanding of how the Golden Knights’ stellar defensive system works.

So far, however, they have failed to prove they’re capable of countering it, much less beating it.

Another meager offensive showing in a 2-1 loss in Game 3 on Saturday put the Hawks on the brink of elimination, trailing 3-0 in the series.

‘‘We could’ve had way more goals than just one, but they just didn’t go in,’’ said defenseman Olli Maatta, the Hawks’ lone goal-scorer. ‘‘[We had] a couple of posts, bounces out. On a better day, those are going to go in. It’s tough now, but it is what it is.’’

The Knights’ decision to start Marc-Andre Fleury — a weaker goalie than Robin Lehner at this point in his accomplished career — for the first leg of the weekend back-to-back seemingly provided the Hawks with their juiciest chance to get back in the series.

But a combination of Fleury channeling his late-2000s self with a spectacular outing and the Hawks’ attack falling into many of the traps the Knights’ defense cleverly has set all series killed that opportunity.

Fleury came out aggressively to break up a centering pass to Kirby Dach in the opening minutes, then challenged a good-looking shot by Jonathan Toews on a power play early in the third period. Patrick Kane should’ve beaten him late in the first but hit the post on a gaping net.

Alex DeBrincat enjoyed a promising yet fruitless outing. He flew all over the ice en route to eight shots on goal — many of which were high-danger chances — but remained cursed from scoring his first postseason goal.

‘‘I had a lot of good chances,’’ he said, dismayed. ‘‘Just didn’t squeak through.’’

A second-period goal by Patrick Brown proved to be the game-winner for the Knights.
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The rest of the Hawks largely were squashed by the Knights’ system, no matter how well they apparently knew it coming in.

Before Game 3, coach Jeremy Colliton had described in depth the Knights’ ‘‘overload’’ system, which focuses on tying up the puck in the corner and crashing the battle with two or three additional players to win it back. After the game, however, he offered few specifics as to why the Hawks have been outsmarted by it so often.

‘‘That’s what the playoffs are about,’’ he said. ‘‘We make adjustments, they make adjustments. We knew what they were doing before the series. It’s just [about] finding a way.’’

The Knights established the upper hand early with a short-handed goal by William Karlsson, then dominated the second period and eventually added an insurance goal from Patrick Brown.

That two-goal deficit appeared — and turned out to be — insurmountable, despite Maatta’s tally.

‘‘They got the second goal, and then it’s tough,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘It’s an uphill battle against a team that makes you work for everything you get.’’

Colliton used Kane as liberally as possible, double-shifting him constantly, as Kane racked up nearly 25 minutes of ice time. Colliton also reinserted rookie defenseman Adam Boqvist into the lineup, but Boqvist ultimately made two blunders that led directly to the Knights’ second goal.

The Hawks’ playoff run, which has turned sour as quickly as it ripened, will end Sunday if the Knights can complete the sweep in Game 4.

‘‘Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘We want to be that team that plays to the end, never quits. We showed character to come back, but . . . it’s a results thing, and we have to find a way to finish it.’’

‘‘We’re down three games, [and] tomorrow is a must-win to stay alive,’’ Toews said. ‘‘That’s the reality. That’s the way we look at it.’’