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Blackhawks drop 4th straight as snowball gets bigger

Jonathan Toews sat at his locker and braced for another round of uncomfortable questions from reporters.

A few minutes earlier, the Blackhawks had fallen short 3-2 at home against the Calgary Flames. It was their fourth loss in a row and sixth in the last seven games. The team dropped to 3-12-3 since Oct. 27.

“It’s a lot of little things that seem to go wrong,” Toews said. “It’s not for lack of trying. The effort is there.

“It’s one of those things we’re stuck in right now. It’s snowballing in the wrong direction. It’s tough.”

Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks deflects the puck behind teammate Duncan Keith #2 and Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Calgary Flames at the United Center on December 02, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 02: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks deflects the puck behind teammate Duncan Keith #2 and Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Calgary Flames at the United Center on December 02, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775220701

The next question is whether the Blackhawks can push back against the snowball and save their season.

For what it’s worth, some positive signs emerged in Sunday’s game. Toews flashed a burst of speed on a breakaway goal, and Dylan Strome ended a lengthy power-play drought with a backhand goal — his second in four games with the team.

Corey Crawford was solid in net, as well, making 38 saves to keep the score tight.

But the Blackhawks’ margin for error is slim. One or two mistakes can doom an otherwise decent game.

A mistake like, say, drawing a five-minute major and a game misconduct to put your team on a lengthy penalty kill.

That mistake belonged to veteran forward Chris Kunitz, who was ejected in the second period after he drilled Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic with an elbow near the boards. Hamonic bled from the bridge of his nose as Kunitz left the ice.

The game was tied at 1 when the play occurred at 7:08 of the second period. By the end of the major, the Flames led 3-1.

It was the second lengthy penalty kill in as many days for the Blackhawks, who lost Duncan Keith to a misconduct on Saturday.

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“I think last night was seven minutes,” Strome said. “So a seven-minute power play and a five-minute power play aren’t easy to kill off. They scored one in Nashville and scored two tonight.

“Our killers have been doing a great job blocking shots and the ‘D’ have been getting pucks out and I think our kill’s been great. It’s a long time to kill, and they’re going to get chances. A lot of skill guys on the other team.”

The Blackhawks coughed up the opening goal for the seventh consecutive game.

The Flames had nine of the game’s first 10 shots before scoring 10:07 into the first period. That counted as progress for a Blackhawks team that had allowed at least one goal in the first six minutes of each of its previous six games.

Eighty-six seconds later, Toews scored to even the score at 1. He sprinted out of the defensive zone, chipped a pass to himself off the side boards and buried a forehand shot for his 12th goal in 28 games.

The Blackhawks’ captain is on pace to score 35 goals. He scored a career-low 20 goals in 74 games last season.

Brandon Saad had a terrific opportunity to give the Hawks a lead at the end of the first period, but his backhand shot went off the crossbar as time expired. Saad watched in frustration as the puck glanced away.

Artem Anisimov had an opportunity to tie the game late in the third period but could not finish from point-blank range.

“It was an OK game all around, but OK’s not going to get you many places in this league,” Strome said.

The Blackhawks will travel west to face the Ducks on Wednesday.

“They had some life,” coach Jeremy Colliton said of his team. “I thought we showed a little response. So let’s build on that now.”