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Blackhawks start season’s second half poorly with loss to Panthers

The Blackhawks have now lost decisively in three of their last four games after Saturday’s 4-2 setback, a worrying trend as the second half of the season begins.

Aleksander Barkov scored twice for the Panthers as they beat the Hawks 4-2.
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

The Blackhawks’ hopes of maintaining their surprisingly solid play through the second half of the regular season were dealt a worrying first blow Saturday.

The Panthers took over the game midway through the second period and beat the Hawks 4-2.

“We were one or two steps behind in battles,” defenseman Adam Boqvist said. “We didn’t win 50-50s and stuff like that. Small details, but, yeah, they were just more hungry than us in the second [period]. Overall, we have to be better over 60 minutes. We can’t have any downs.”

For much of the first half of the season, the Hawks often weren’t majestic, but they were almost always competitive. In 22 games between Jan. 19 and March 5, the Hawks only suffered two multigoal losses.

But that has changed recently. The Hawks have lost by multiple goals in three of their last four games, all of which have included disastrous scoring runs in which they’ve been unable to stop the bleeding.

The Lightning scored six unanswered goals in last Sunday’s rout. The Stars scored three times in a four-minute span Tuesday, breaking the game open. And the Panthers scored three times in four minutes, 33 seconds to flip a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.

“It was just misplays, and it’s in the back of our net,” forward Brandon Hagel said. “You can’t really take a shift off; you can’t do little things like that. They just capitalized when they had opportunities and kind of killed us.”

The Panthers’ first line of Aleksander Barkov centering Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe powered the takeover. That trio outshot the Hawks 14-2 and scored three times.

“That line was tough to handle all night,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Whoever was the third guy there was strong on the puck and tough to defend, took the puck to the net [and] beat us to the net. They were a big difference in the game.”

Hagel later pointed out that every team — from good teams to bad teams — in the NHL inevitably endures bad stretches at some points. And he’s right.

But the way the Hawks have played in these last five games — losing three decisively and deservedly — is concerning. They’ve shown little of the competitiveness that was such a huge part of their identity earlier in the season.

The Hawks have allowed 104 more shots, 66 more shots on goal and 65 more scoring chances than they’ve produced in these five games. Faceoffs also have been terrible: The Hawks’ 24-for-71 showing Saturday dropped their rate over the last three games to 38.5%.

The Panthers won the scoring-chance battle 25-22, and that was by far the Hawks’ best showing in that category during this five-game stretch.

Colliton has tried to jump-start his team with some targeted line changes, particularly in the first-line center role because the recent struggles of Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev have left a gaping hole in the attack.

Even David Kampf, who has no goals this season, saw some time there next to Patrick Kane against the Panthers.

So far, nothing has worked.

“Typically, we’ve been the ones to find a way to out-compete the team we’re up against in key moments,” Colliton said. “Tonight, it was them.”