The Blackhawks have yet to anoint Kevin Lankinen as their official long-term No. 1 goaltender, but they’re certainly treating him that way right now.
Lankinen started again Tuesday — for the 10th time in 12 games — and saved 25 of 27 shots in the 4-2 victory against the Stars.
“In his development, it’s a good step for him to carry a load here as the games get big,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “[He’s] getting used to what that feels like and what he needs to do to prepare himself to play at a high level consistently.”
Lankinen’s tireless work ethic has propelled him out of a downturn in the first half of March, bringing back his top level in recent weeks. He’s 4-3-0 with a .932 save percentage in his last seven starts and 14-10-4 with a .918 save percentage on the season.
Constant work with Hawks goalie coach Jimmy Waite has contributed to his improvement. Lankinen has worked in-season on finding pucks through traffic and, once he finds them, coming out farther to make himself bigger and cut down on the angle.
Those emphases were evident Tuesday as Lankinen produced several big saves on scrambled, hard-to-follow plays in the first two periods, then stood strong in the closing minutes to stave off the Stars’ comeback.
“It has helped for sure, because every team wants to have traffic in front and try to take away the goalie’s eyes,” he said. “Especially with good ‘D’ on the blue line, they’re going to find a way to shoot the puck toward the net.”
He finally got goal support, too.
Patrick Kane addressed the team before the game, telling them “every game from here on out is a playoff game,” then dominated on a line with Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat. Colliton later described the trio’s play as “fantastic.”
Kane set up Dach for his first goal of the season — minutes after a Dach-to-Kane goal was overturned for offsides — in the first period. DeBrincat ripped a goal upstairs in the second. Kane added an empty-net goal late in the third.
Vinnie Hinostroza also recorded a point in his first game as a Hawk since 2018, feeding Dominik Kubalik on a two-on-one rush.
“I was really happy with our approach tonight,” Colliton said. “We responded in a lot of different ways to the challenge, and [it was] nice that we were rewarded for the work that we put in. We were pretty sharp with a lot of details, which helps.”
It also helps that the Hawks have been able to rely on consistency from Lankinen virtually every night this season, whether the skaters in front of him have been good or bad.
The team’s relatively undisrupted schedule is part of why that has proven possible. The Stars, for example, are playing 43 games in their final 76 days of the season, whereas the Hawks are playing only 37 games in their final 80 days.
But Lankinen — who made only 25 and 21 appearances the last two seasons, respectively, in the minor leagues — deserves plenty of credit for settling into the rhythm and routine of a No. 1 NHL goalie so seamlessly.
“I really embrace the opportunity to play a lot of games,” he said. “This is what every goalie wants to do. It’s a pretty cool schedule for us when you play every other night and then get that day off in between. You do what you need to do to be ready the next day again. It’s definitely easier to find that groove.”