Blackhawks’ inability to protect leads reaches new extreme in 6-3 loss to Lightning
The Hawks let a 3-0 lead slip away Sunday, yet another instance in an ongoing trend.
The Blackhawks’ three-goal lead Sunday against the Lightning was the seventh multigoal edge they’ve held (excluding empty-netters) since the start of February.
Six of those seven times, they’ve blown the lead.
That lack of ‘‘killer instinct’’ — a phrase used frequently in recent weeks — reached a new extreme Sunday. The Lightning scoffed at that deficit and responded with six unanswered goals to win 6-3, taking two of the three games in this measuring-stick series.
In each of the three games, the team that scored the first two goals lost.
‘‘We’ve got do something to stop the bleeding there at 3-1 or 3-2 or whatever,’’ Hawks forward Mattias Janmark said. ‘‘When we’re up 3-0, we’ve got to know how to play those games, too. That’s two games here where we’ve had that lead, and we let it go way too fast. We’ve got to learn from that.’’
Philipp Kurashev, Janmark and Pius Suter scored to put the Hawks ahead comfortably, albeit momentarily, against the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
But a momentum-swinging penalty by Brandon Hagel gave the Lightning life immediately after Suter’s goal.
‘‘We’d love to not take a penalty there,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘Someone else probably doesn’t get called on that one. These young guys don’t typically get the benefit of the doubt in those situations.
‘‘After that, they scored on the power play. Then they get a quick one off the rush, then it’s a different game.’’
Defenseman Calvin de Haan was a game-time decision but did not dress, so Wyatt Kalynuk made his NHL debut in his place. Defenseman Connor Murphy was ejected in the second period for a high hit that injured the Lightning’s Erik Cernak, the boiling-over moment in a generally chippy game.
That left the Hawks with only two veteran defensemen, Duncan Keith and Nikita Zadorov, and four first- or second-year defensemen: Kalynuk, Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell (who especially struggled) and Lucas Carlsson.
That crew found themselves regularly overmatched, both in terms of minutes and matchups against the Lightning’s deep, skilled roster.
Penalty-killing was also a problem, a fatal flaw on an undisciplined day.
Victor Hedman tied the score with a power-play goal less than five minutes after Suter had put the Hawks ahead 3-0, and Yanni Gourde gave the Lightning the lead for good with a power-play goal later in the second period. The Hawks ultimately conceded four power-play goals, tied for the most they have allowed in a game since 2011.
But the most concerning takeaway was the blown lead. The Hawks have been a scrappy, unflappable, hard-to-shake-off team this season, and they’ve earned plenty of praise for those traits. Since their awful season-opening road trip, they’ve been competitive almost every night, often against tough competition.
But the same youthfulness that gives the Hawks that tenacity also curses them with inexperience, a weakness that rises to the surface when opponents push back equally tenaciously.
Their 7-2 victory Feb. 28 against the miserable Red Wings is the only time in their last 16 games in which the Hawks successfully maintained a multigoal advantage. Conversely, they’ve squandered multigoal leads Feb. 4 against the Hurricanes, Feb. 11 against the Blue Jackets, Feb. 23 against the Blue Jackets (twice) and Thursday and Sunday against the Lightning.
The Hawks blew five of seven second-intermission leads — of any margin — during that time period, too. Strong overtime performances eventually salvaged victories in three of those five instances, but that’s not a recipe for sustained success.
The Lightning handed the Hawks a vivid example of that Sunday.
‘‘We’re learning how to manage momentum and learning how to be more consistent [from] shift to shift,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘I don’t think that’s unexpected. [But] we’ve got to keep working at it.’’