‘Inexcusable’ special-teams errors doom Blackhawks in loss to Panthers
The Hawks’ penalty kill conceded two goals before the power play gave up a backbreaking short-handed goal in the 6-3 defeat.
When the Blackhawks’ even-strength play has struggled, their special teams often have kept them afloat.
That wasn’t the case Monday.
An abysmal night by the power-play and penalty-kill units doomed the Hawks to a 6-3 loss to the Panthers, their fourth defeat in their last five games.
‘‘To boil it down, we just didn’t have the desperation when the game was on the line at the key moments that they did,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘You have to bring your best all the time. Most of the time is not going to cut it.’’
The Hawks’ penalty kill, which had been better in the last few games but generally has been poor in the last few weeks, surrendered two goals on three Panthers power plays.
The first came after an arguably cheap tripping penalty on defenseman Duncan Keith that Colliton later called ‘‘stupid.’’ The second jump-started the Panthers’ comeback after goals by Philipp Kurashev and Brandon Hagel briefly gave the Hawks a 3-1 lead in the second period.
Colliton recently has implored the penalty kill to be more aggressive, but that strategy seemed to space them out too much Monday, giving the Panthers’ passes plenty of space to slice through.
‘‘We couldn’t find clears sometimes,’’ Hagel said. ‘‘Maybe [we need to] win more battles.’’
The power play was even worse. On their first three power plays, the Hawks were outshot 1-0 by the Panthers’ penalty-killers. On their fourth, they conceded a go-ahead short-handed goal to Aleksander Barkov with 6:34 left.
‘‘What happened at the end with the power play was inexcusable,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘Tough to explain how that happens.
‘‘At the very least, [we need to have] just the desperation to not get scored on. They scored the goal, but on the power play before, they got a chance, as well. Our power play has been really good for us this year, won us some hockey games. Tonight was tough.’’
The Hawks’ ongoing faceoff woes are a ‘‘big part . . . no question’’ of their troubles on special teams, Colliton admitted. They won only 24 of 64 draws Saturday, then just 25 of 65 draws Monday.
But the power play also faltered in board battles, lacked creativity on zone entries and hesitated in possession in the offensive zone. Even wing Patrick Kane, who at one moment in the first period had lots of room to shoot or make a dangerous pass, waffled indecisively until the Panthers closed down and knocked the puck away.
‘‘To me, when we’ve been at our best on the power play, we win a 50-50 [battle and] we attack,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘You hope you’re going to win pucks back and win those battles, and then they’re exposed. Because typically they’re going to commit numbers to try to win [the puck] back. So if you can win those pucks, then there are plays to make. But we didn’t win enough of them.’’
Thanks to two late empty-netters, the Panthers finished the game scoring five consecutive goals. It was the third time in the last five games in which the Hawks allowed four or more consecutive goals. They also have blown seven of their nine multigoal leads since the start of February.
And with two games against the Lightning — then two more against the Panthers — coming up, these are trying times.
‘‘From where I sit, there are two choices [we] can make,’’ goalie Kevin Lankinen said. ‘‘You can bury your head and feel bad for yourself or just learn and keep moving forward.’’