Petr Mrazek carries Blackhawks to shocking win over Penguins

The Hawks’ 5-2 victory Tuesday dealt a massive blow to both their own draft lottery objectives — they jumped from 32nd to 30th in the NHL standings — and the Penguins’ playoff hopes. Only the Hawks’ own players and coaches appreciated the result.

SHARE Petr Mrazek carries Blackhawks to shocking win over Penguins
Petr Mrazek makes a save.

Petr Mrazek made 38 saves as the Blackhawks stunned the Penguins on Tuesday.

Gene J. Puskar/AP

PITTSBURGH — Hockey can be a strange sport. On Tuesday, it reached maximum strangeness.

Petr Mrazek’s 38 saves carried the Blackhawks to a shocking 5-2 victory over the Penguins, dealing sizable blows to both organization’s long-term objectives in the penultimate game of the season.

The Penguins lost control of their own destiny in the Eastern Conference playoff race and now will need help from the Islanders on Wednesday to get in. The idle Panthers clinched a spot by default.

The Hawks, meanwhile, briefly dropped into last place when the Blue Jackets earned a point (in an overtime loss to the Flyers) but then jumped all the way up to 30th — tied with the Ducks and a point ahead of the Jackets — after the victory. They, too, now will need help to finish in last place and guarantee a top-three draft pick.

The result was a disaster all around — for everyone except the Hawks’ coaches and players, who loved it.

“The guys are really just playing for themselves,” coach Luke Richardson said. “We put a lot of work in this year and made some strides in a lot of areas other than the standings. Next year, obviously we want to move up, but to do that, we have to still make steps. We’re going to finish off the right way, which is great to see.”

Even after Evgeni Malkin tied the game 1-1 with 14:32 left, Buddy Robinson (with his first NHL goal of the season) and Andreas Athanasiou scored 26 seconds apart to give the Hawks a lead they never would relinquish — and stun the rest of the league.

Mrazek was the biggest story, though. He stopped eight shots by Sidney Crosby alone, generating arguably his best performance of the season at its most critical moment — for better or worse.

“You don’t think about it that way,” Mrazek said. “It’s probably on their side that they think about it. You’re just here to play and try to get the best performance you can.”

Gapski retires

Longtime Hawks head athletic trainer Mike Gapski will retire after Thursday’s season finale against the Flyers, concluding an astounding career.

Gapski, called “Gapper” by everyone around the team, has worked for the Hawks since 1987, making him the longest-tenured single-team trainer in NHL history. After Thursday, he will have worked 2,758 regular-season games and 249 playoff games, having crossed paths with more than half of all players in franchise history.

“He conducts himself how I like it to be conducted in the organization,” Richardson said. “He understands and he listens to [the players]. It’s going to be a big loss for us, but a well-deserved rest for him.”

Kaiser learning

Rookie defenseman Wyatt Kaiser produced probably his best outing yet Monday against the Wild and remained dressed for his eighth career game Tuesday.

When at his best, he’s actively joining rushes, and he was doing so Monday. He delivered a couple crafty passes through the neutral zone to spring Hawks forwards, and he even sliced through the Wild defense himself for a high-danger chance in the second period.

“[In] the systems here, I’ve been learning a little bit more about where I can go and be aggressive and where I can’t be,” Kaiser said. “Other than that, [I’ve picked up] little things here and there, like stick positions on the rush and when to hold the puck a little bit longer.”

The Hawks expect he’ll gain strength over the summer and apply lessons from this experience as a full-time player next season.

“He’s not afraid to take charge and go with the puck,” Richardson said. “He’s an excellent skater, so it’s going to be part of his game moving forward. It’s kind of like Seth [Jones] this year: [He’s] just finding the right times to join offensively.

“Obviously, [you] have to know what time of game it is, the score [and] who’s on the ice — things like that where, in college, he probably didn’t have to worry too much about [them] with his skating ability. Just up here, there’s not a lot of time to recover.”

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