A week ago, Alex DeBrincat was part of the Blackhawks’ first round of COVID-19 protocol-list designations, with coach Jeremy Colliton saying he’d be out “certainly two weeks.”
But on Tuesday morning, well ahead of schedule, DeBrincat’s grinning face, tattooed left arm and dynamic offensive skills were back on the United Center ice.
The Hurricanes nonetheless spoiled DeBrincat’s return with a 4-3 shootout win, fending off two comebacks by the resilient Hawks and prevailing on Andrei Svechnikov’s walk-off shootout winner.
“We dug ourselves a bit of a hole, but [I’m] really happy with how we bounced back and responded,” Colliton said. “The first two periods were a pretty even hockey game; we were right there with them. Third period, we were hanging on a little bit. They really pushed.”
Philipp Kurashev and Patrick Kane scored in the first period to help the Hawks rally from a 2-0 deficit, then Dylan Strome scored with 6:39 left in regulation to tie the score.
But, as Colliton mentioned, the Hurricanes had more chances (18-11) than the Hawks in the third period and overtime, eventually dropping the Hawks to 0-4 in extra-time games.
DeBrincat didn’t score but had two assists and was full of energy after not touching the ice for eight days.
His quick stick forced a rare Jaccob Slavin turnover to set up Kane’s goal. Later, he tracked down the puck behind the net and found Strome crashing the net for the equalizer.
“This morning, I was trying to take a few hard strides, just trying to tire [my legs] out a little bit and then regroup for the game,” he said.
“Then during the game, there wasn’t too much problem with it. I had some consistent shifts in the first period, which was nice. I was able to catch my wind and play well.”
Defenseman Nicolas Beaudin also was activated after three days on the COVID-19 list and played a whopping 20:01, getting time on the second power-play unit and in overtime.
Colliton clarified that neither DeBrincat nor Beaudin had tested positive, thus explaining their faster-than-anticipated returns.
The Hawks’ COVID-19 list is down to three players: Adam Boqvist, Lucas Wallmark and Ryan Carpenter.
DeBrincat said Boqvist, who normally lives with him, has temporarily left his house.
“That’s the right direction, for sure,” Colliton said.
“You don’t want that list getting larger. Give credit to our team. We handled [their absences] well as far as taking care of business and focusing on our own performance.”
Highmore moves on from scratches
Matthew Highmore entered the season with a secure spot in the lineup, manning the left wing on the seemingly ultra-stable fourth line with David Kampf and Carpenter.
But shakeups after the Hawks’ third game unexpectedly cost him his spot in the lineup for a time. He was a healthy scratch in five of six games between Jan. 18 and Jan. 30.
“It’s a long season,” Highmore said. “Stuff’s going to happen. There’s going to be ups, there’s going to downs. [I] just have to continue to stay even-keel.”
The last two games, though, Highmore re-entered the lineup and had six combined shots on goal.
“I just want to be more consistent,” he said. “That’s the key to the game: better puck plays . . . [and] trying to create more battles.”