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Blackhawks’ overtime loss spoils strong performance from young players

The Blackhawks finally saw Kevin Lankinen, saw what they wanted out of Dominik Kubalik and saw Philipp Kurashev celebrate a milestone. They also saw another loss added into the standings.

Kevin Lankinen saved 23 of 28 shots in his NHL debut.
AP Photos

The Blackhawks on Tuesday finally saw Kevin Lankinen, saw what they wanted out of Dominik Kubalik and saw Philipp Kurashev celebrate a milestone.

They also saw another loss added into the standings.

A Frank Vatrano overtime goal gave the Panthers a 5-4 overtime win, denying the Hawks a single victory on four-game season-opening road trip.

“It’s hard to talk about it, obviously,” Kubalik said. “The work ethic was pretty good today and felt like we did lots of good things. Finally get some goals, too. [It’s] just sad that we didn’t make it to the win.”

Coach Jeremy Colliton unleashed Lankinen for his first NHL start in goal and, like Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban before him, Lankinen played decently well — making some big saves, including a huge blocker stop on a 2-on-1 break in overtime — but conceded five goals nonetheless.

Lankinen said he found out Monday about his imminent start and felt poised and prepared despite the adverse conditions.

“I’ve been working extremely hard for this moment and I was able to enjoy the day, enjoy the game,” he said. “Am I happy with the outcome? Obviously not. But there’s a lot to build on. I felt comfortable as the game went on.”

The 25-year-old Finn is the rawest of the Hawks’ three goalies but also arguably possesses the highest upside. He at least proved Tuesday he deserves a regular share of the rotation.

“As the season goes on, the game’s going to settle down,” he said. “I’ll make better reads because you have that game feeling.”

Lankinen was far from the game’s only bright spot. The Hawks also out-shot the Panthers 33-28 and battled back from early 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to take a brief 4-3 lead on Kurashev’s first NHL goal.

Kubalik, surprisingly under-utilized by Colliton in the early-going, also rediscovered his rookie brilliance with two goals and eight shots on goal.

Games like Tuesday’s contest were surely what the Hawks imagined 2021 would be filled with when they committed to the youth movement in October.

The Hawks were by no means dominant or pretty, but their young players almost universally demonstrated tangible signs of growth. The team pushed through adversity, fueled by strong work ethic, and made the game exciting if not ultimately successful.

“We have no complaints how the young guys have played,” Colliton said. “Certainly there’s going to be mistakes and we expect them to get better here as we go, but we have a lot of guys playing big roles, big minutes.

“Tonight, it would’ve been nice to finish it off with a win you’d feel a lot better about it — but those young guys are a big reason why we are going to get better as the year goes on. That’s got to be our focus every day.”

If the remaining 52 games look like this one, the front office will end up pleased with that decision. But considering the Hawks have achieved this level of competency in only one of four games to date, that seems unlikely.

Boqvist unscathed

Defenseman Adam Boqvist left the game during the second period with an apparent right arm or right shoulder injury but returned for the third.

Colliton said Boqvist was fine, health-wise, despite the scare — Boqvist injured his right shoulder three separate times last season, too.