Blackhawks try Andreas Athanasiou at center in narrow loss to Wild

Athanasiou’s unexpected position change snapped him out of a funk with “one of his strongest games all year.” But the Wild took the lead with 1:11 left and beat the Hawks 3-1, marking their eighth straight win in the rivalry series.

SHARE Blackhawks try Andreas Athanasiou at center in narrow loss to Wild
Ryan Hartman’s goal lifted the Wild over the Blackhawks 3-1 on Saturday.

Ryan Hartman’s goal lifted the Wild over the Blackhawks 3-1 on Saturday.

AP Photo/Stacy Bengs

ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his original centers mostly gone and his replacement centers now dropping off, Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson tried Andreas Athanasiou at the position Saturday against the Wild.

It worked rather well, even though a late Wild goal doomed the Hawks to a 3-1 loss — their fourth in a row.

Athanasiou centered Lukas Reichel and MacKenzie Entwistle, who was bumped up to the first line after Philipp Kurashev’s injury to maintain the same second and third lines. Reichel scored the Hawks’ lone goal by looking off Athanasiou on a two-on-one and picking a corner.

“Reichel wouldn’t have that opportunity if [Athanasiou] didn’t skate hard and pull that ‘D’ off of him to give him the room,” Richardson said.

Added Reichel, whose confidence is clearly growing: “I’ve had a couple of two-on-ones that I always try to force it a little bit with a pass. [I decided to] just shoot it, and [I’m] glad it went in.”

Opponents had generated a massive 70-27 advantage in scoring chances in Athanasiou’s five-on-five ice time the previous eight games, but the unexpected position change snapped him out of a funk, and he managed a 7-7 split against Minnesota.

He struggled on faceoffs, going 0-for-8, but that’s understandable considering he hasn’t played center regularly since 2018-19 with the Red Wings.

“That was one of his strongest games all year,” Richardson said. “I know guys that skate well [can play center]. Like even [Sam] Lafferty this year, moving him to wing and back to center, he seemed to always flourish at center. Maybe that’s going to be Athanasiou’s final outcome here.”

Although the Hawks finished with a 24-16 overall scoring-chance edge, an old friend in Ryan Hartman scored the decisive goal with 1:11 left to give the Wild their eighth consecutive win over the Hawks since February 2020.

Hartman surprised defenseman Connor Murphy in the neutral zone and maneuvered around Alex Stalock (22 saves) on the breakaway. Frederick Gaudreau tacked on an empty-net goal.

“From the start to the end, we played in their way and frustrated them,” Richardson said. “[It’s] disappointing [we] didn’t get at least a point.”

It was the fifth time in nine games that the Hawks conceded a go-ahead goal within the last eight minutes of regulation.

Mrazek returns quickly

Goalie Petr Mrazek’s decision to pull himself at the second intermission of the Hawks’ March 14 victory against the Bruins because of groin discomfort has paid off.

Having dealt with recurring groin injuries for years, he has become quite mindful of slight changes in feeling in that area. This time, he avoided a significant setback, recovering quickly enough to back up Stalock on Saturday.

“It didn’t feel right,” Mrazek said. “My leg felt a little loose. So I’m like, ‘I’m not coming back [in this game]. Let’s see how that feels.’ I made the right decision. I didn’t skate for three days, then came back and started skating. I’m glad I made that choice.”

Ludwinski signs

The Hawks signed forward prospect Paul Ludwinski to a three-year entry-level contract with a $932,000 salary-cap hit.

Ludwinski, a second-round pick last summer, has struggled with injuries this season while notching 34 points in 47 OHL games. The contract doesn’t begin until next season and might well end up sliding until the season after.

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