Blackhawks squander two-goal lead, fall in overtime to Leafs

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Jan Rutta celebrates his goal with teammates John Hayden and Jonathan Toews during the first period of Monday’s game. (AP Photo)

TORONTO —The Blackhawks had scored 15 goals in two games. The Maple Leafs had scored 15 goals in two games. But before Monday’s showdown at Air Canada Centre, Patrick Kane cautioned against expecting a wild shootout.

“I don’t know, you always see these [kinds of games] and sometimes everyone’s so focused defensively they end up being 2-1 or 1-0 games,” Kane said. “We’ll see. I’m sure it’ll be entertaining either way.”

It certainly was. But maybe the Hawks should have focused a little harder on defense.

The Hawks were overrun by the fast and aggressive Leafs in the final two periods and overtime, squandering a pair of two-goal leads in a 4-3 overtime loss capped by Auston Matthews’ snipe off — what else? —the rush.

“They’re good, they’re really good,” Joel Quenneville said. “We gave up a ton of chances, uncharacteristic of us. But they’ve got some amazing players. They’re dangerous, give them credit.”

Anton Forsberg, making his Hawks debut in goal, was the hard-luck loser as a spate of penalties and odd-man rushes against doomed him despite his 39 saves. The Hawks — after jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Jan Rutta and Jonathan Toews —seemed to get worn down by Toronto’s relentless attack. The Leafs just kept coming, flipping the ice quickly and flying down the ice in waves in transition. The Hawks were left to just flail their sticks as the Leafs flew by, taking four slashing penalties as the league continues to crack down on innocuous stick-taps to prevent injuries to players’ hands and wrists.

“They have a lot of skilled guys that can make a lot of plays,” Forsberg said. “I mean, it’s not just me, it’s tough for the whole team, the guys that have to play on the penalty kill. If we’re going to win games, we’ve got to have [fewer] penalties.”

The Leafs had 44 shot attempts at even strength from the second period on. The Hawks had just seven. It wasn’t just quantity, either. The Leafs generated plenty of genuine scoring chances.

“We gave up way more than our quota,” Quenneville said. “We got in the high numbers. That was as [many] as we probably give up over long stretches of the season.”

The game started well enough for the Hawks, who despite missing Nick Schmaltz (upper body) picked up right where they left off after a 10-1 win over Pittsburgh and a 5-1 win over Columbus, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first eight minutes. A lucky bounce off Mitch Marner’s stick for Rutta —who continues to entrench himself in the lineup, leaving veteran Cody Franson to sit and wait — gave him his second goal in as many games. And another net-crashing shift for the top line gave Toews the same.

But it was all Leafs after that. Forsberg stopped 18 of 19 shots in the second, only allowing Nikita Zaitsev to beat him between the pads. The Hawks got a huge break on a power play early in the third, as a fortuitous bounce off the boards gave Richard Panik his third goal in as many games. But the penalties kept piling up, and the Leafs kept coming. Connor Brown made it 3-2 shortly after a power play at 13:00, and James van Riemsdyk tied it on a power play at 15:42.

Matthews finished it off, flying down the ice against the weary Hawks and sniping a terrific shot past Forsberg. After two high-flying, dominant victories against contenders, it was a reminder that the Hawks are still a work in progress, particularly on the defensive end.

“We didn’t seem to keep them in their end the way we wanted to,” Toews said. “We gave them a lot of rushes. Overtime was a good example —one 2-on-1 after another.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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