Blackhawks collapse in third period, lose to desperate Golden Knights

A feel-good West Coast trip for the Hawks ended on a sour note in a 5-4 overtime loss, providing another reminder that rebuilding is the wisest decision.

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Evgenii Dadonov’s lifted the Golden Knights to a 5-4 overtime win over the Blackhawks on Saturday.

AP Photo/David Becker

LAS VEGAS — For the first two periods of their 5-4 overtime loss Saturday, the Blackhawks matched the Golden Knights’ desperation and countered it with clean, crisp execution.

In the third period, however, the Hawks’ fragility reappeared.

Four Knights goals in a nine-minute span transformed what was once a 3-0 Hawks lead into a 4-4 tie before Evgenii Dadonov — whom the Knights tried to trade less than a week ago, only to have the move nixed by the NHL because of controversy about a no-trade clause — scored the game-winner in overtime.

‘‘Anytime you give up a three-goal lead in the third period, it’s obviously not good,’’ Hawks center Dylan Strome said. ‘‘They just rolled the momentum there, and we couldn’t stop it.

‘‘[We needed to] try to relax. [After] they scored that quick into the third, it’s just like, ‘Take a deep breath.’ The building is going crazy — this has to be the loudest rink in the NHL — so they get one, they get two, then it’s a tough thing to stop.’’

Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson and Jack Eichel scored in a span of 1:52 to bring the Knights level at 3-3, then Alex Pietrangelo tallied 47 seconds after Alex DeBrincat’s go-ahead goal to keep the crowd of 18,301 at T-Mobile Arena rocking.

The two points technically lifted the Knights ahead of the Stars in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, although they still trail based on points percentage. Those two teams, along with the Kings, Oilers and Predators above them and the Jets and Canucks below them, appear destined for a frantic final month.

The Hawks, of course, will be nowhere near that excitement as they plod through their final weeks with all eyes on the future. That makes it difficult to put the short-term positives and negatives into context because neither matter in the long run. And that’s a shame because there have been plenty of positives lately.

The Hawks went 2-0-1 on this West Coast trip, earning five of a possible six points and avoiding an emotional downturn after the trade deadline Monday.

Kevin Lankinen’s goaltending has looked 2021-level sharp lately — at least until the third period Saturday. Dominik Kubalik put forth a tremendous effort, scoring in his return from a healthy scratch.

Seth Jones is riding a five-game points streak, and Jake McCabe has seven points in his last nine games. The line of Strome, DeBrincat and Patrick Kane has been red-hot for so long, it seems permanent.

And the Hawks played one of their best second periods in months against the Knights, maintaining excellent structure in the neutral zone — constantly intercepting breakouts while cleanly slicing across the blue lines with their own — and demonstrating sharp vision and accurate passing in the offensive zone.

‘‘We were skating, we were getting pucks behind them, we were good on the forecheck, we were patient [and] the ‘D’ were active,’’ interim coach Derek King said. ‘‘We just played a solid two periods.’’

Then it abruptly disappeared.

‘‘Usually, the second period is our worst,’’ King said. ‘‘Now I’ve got to work on the third period because . . . all the things we did in the second and the first, we stopped doing in the third. And it’s just like, ‘OK, Strome, get going, get your line out there,’ because they were creating opportunities. [But] you can’t play that line for a whole period. You need other guys to fill in.’’

There’s no arguing that general manager Kyle Davidson’s aggressive rebuild isn’t the wisest plan. After a relatively feel-good week, the final portion of the game Saturday provided another vivid reminder of that.

The Hawks are 24-32-10, an awful record from any perspective. And they proved yet again they don’t have the talent, depth, confidence or composure to keep up — when it really matters — against a playoff-caliber opponent.

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