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Makeshift defense holds its own, but Blackhawks fall to Rangers

Seth and Caleb Jones kept afloat a unit missing Jake McCabe, Connor Murphy and Riley Stillman in a 3-2 loss.

Seth Jones played nearly 30 minutes in the Blackhawks’ loss to the Rangers.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

NEW YORK — Seth and Caleb Jones did an admirable job of holding together a short-handed Blackhawks defense Saturday.

Missing Connor Murphy, Jake McCabe and Riley Stillman, the Hawks hung around until the end in an evenly matched 3-2 loss to the Rangers.

“It was a tough loss [because] we did some good things,” Seth Jones said. “Talking about missing some of the ‘D,’ we did a pretty good job tonight of really keeping them to the outside. We had good sticks in our D-zone, took away a lot of their plays. They love to hit the seam in the offensive zone, cross-ice all the time, [and] we did a decent job of taking most of them away.”

The Rangers finished with a 54-52 edge in shots — and held the majority of possession — but the Hawks nonetheless led 26-24 in scoring chances and 12-6 in high-danger scoring chances.

Ex-Hawks star Artemi Panarin’s goal with 5:14 left proved to be the game-winner, but the Hawks still pushed late, getting one back on Alex DeBrincat’s reviewed goal and generating a few opportunities for an equalizer.

“We made a couple [of mistakes], and they cost us,” interim coach Derek King said. “But those two mistakes that cost us, when I first got here, they were about 10 or 12 mistakes. So we’re making really good strides.”

The Jones brothers were officially paired together — on the top pair, no less — for the first time in their Hawks tenures. And in a heartwarming coincidence, their dad, Nuggets assistant coach Popeye Jones, was in the audience at Madison Square Garden to see it.

They ended up spending 11:25 on the ice together, significantly adding to their previous career total of about 23 minutes. But that represented only a slice of Seth Jones’ whopping 29:43 on the ice.

“This is why you get a player like [Seth Jones] on your team — he was spectacular,” King said.

The brotherly pairing was almost a necessity for the Hawks with the limited amount of defensemen available.

Murphy spent a second consecutive day in concussion protocol, although he was around the arena Friday and “feeling better,” King said. McCabe had to travel back to Chicago for a family matter. With that, both halves of the Hawks’ supposed shutdown pairing were gone.

Stillman wasn’t quite ready to return from his leg injury, and although Calvin de Haan returned from his back injury, he likely wasn’t at 100%. De Haan operated alongside Erik Gustafsson on the second pair, and youngsters Ian Mitchell — who was just recalled Saturday from the AHL — and Wyatt Kalynuk formed the third pair, although they all mixed frequently.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to battle it out,” said goalie Kevin Lankinen, who made 28 saves. “We did a pretty good job of keeping them on the perimeter, not giving them much. . . . I’m pretty proud of the way our ‘D’ played tonight.”

Visit to new arena

The Hawks will continue their New York tour Sunday with their first visit to the Islanders’ brand-new UBS Arena.

They’ll catch the Islanders, arguably the biggest disappointment in the NHL, at a particularly desperate time.

The Isles lost their 10th straight game Saturday, 4-3 against the Red Wings in overtime.

They’ve scored only 11 goals in that span.

And they’re still searching for their first victory at UBS Arena. The Isles are 0-4-1 there, having been shut out twice, since the building opened Nov. 20.