Blackhawks lose again to Predators, fall further behind in playoff race

The Hawks’ 5-2 loss, their sixth in as many games against the Predators this season, combined with the Stars’ 3-2 shootout win spelled bad news for the Hawks’ postseason hopes.

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The Predators beat the Blackhawks for the sixth time this season on Monday.

The Predators beat the Blackhawks for the sixth time this season on Monday.

Mark Humphrey/AP

The Blackhawks felt they played well for the majority of the game Monday against the Predators. But two disastrous stretches — one self-inflicted, one shaped by unlucky breaks — nonetheless doomed them to a 5-2 loss in Nashville.

“It sucks,” winger Alex DeBrincat said. “We have a few breakdowns, about two minutes of poor hockey, and they score four goals. We’ve got to be better.”

Added coach Jeremy Colliton: “For a lot of the game, we were very good. Ultimately, the mistakes we made are tough to recover from. It’s just tough to come back when you put yourself in a hole.”

The defeat, combined with the Stars’ 3-2 shootout victory over the Red Wings, leaves the Hawks in sixth place in the Central Division. Their backs are against the wall in the playoff race, and six losses in as many games against the Predators are easily the biggest reason why.

Offensively, the Hawks did generate more Monday than they typically have against the Predators. With an emphasis on dump-and-chase zone entries and behind-the-net plays, they actually managed 57 shot attempts to the Predators’ 46.

Defensively, however, they crumbled at the worst times.

The Preds took a 3-1 lead with two goals 51 seconds apart in the second period, taking advantage of a blown assignment by Nikita Zadorov in front of his own net, followed by a needless turnover by Duncan Keith that turned into a semi-breakaway.

Two more goals 18 seconds apart in the opening minute of the third period turned the game into a rout. Turnovers by forward Pius Suter and defenseman Calvin de Haan contributed to those goals, but so did two other unfortunate moments. Defenseman Connor Murphy had to leave the play or incur a penalty after Tanner Jeannot knocked off his helmet. That allowed Jeannot to score easily; Murphy later called the rule “crazy.” And Keith slipped while turning during the following play, allowing Luke Kunin to score.

“[In the] third period, [we were] probably not ready to go,” DeBrincat said. “We needed to have a good first shift and second shift, as well. We just can’t let that happen.”

Colliton pulled Kevin Lankinen after he allowed five goals on 22 shots — the first time he has made a goalie switch all season.

The Hawks’ three-game series against the Predators continues Wednesday and Friday in Chicago. Colliton said the team figured entering Monday that they’d “probably need two of these three.” Now, the math is even easier — and the climb even steeper.

“The margin of error is small,” Murphy said. “If you’re going to play for a playoff spot, you have to be sharp for longer periods of the game. We weren’t sharp for long enough tonight.”

Gaudette debuts

Trade-deadline acquisition Adam Gaudette, a 24-year-old forward who’d been practicing since last Wednesday, made his Hawks debut Monday. He took the place of Brandon Hagel, who had yet another false positive COVID-19 test — his second in the last few weeks — and couldn’t get multiple negative results back before warmups.

Gaudette played only 7:39 but earned an assist on David Kampf’s second-period goal — Kampf’s first in 46 games this year.

“We felt [Gaudette] was close to ready, but with [Hagel] not being available, he got the chance,” Colliton said. “He got better as the game went on. Definitely the last two periods, he had some good shifts.”

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