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Third-period lead evaporates in minutes as Blackhawks lose seventh straight

LAS VEGAS — For 40 minutes, the Blackhawks had the rare opportunity to feel good about themselves. As has been the case all too often this season, it didn’t last long.

The Western Conference-leading expansion Golden Knights scored three goals on three consecutive shots to open the third period to turn an encouraging Hawks performance into another discouraging defeat, 5-2. It was their seventh straight loss, and they’re now 12 points out of the playoffs.

“We were on our way,” Tommy Wingels said. “But it’s the same thing that’s plagued us over the past month or two. We can’t string 60 minutes together. We have tidbits here and there where we’re hard, we’re aggressive, we’re physical, we win battles — then it lets up, and the other team gets back in the game. Certainly frustrating. It’s frustrating for us, it’s frustrating for you guys following it and it’s frustrating for everyone watching.”

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Lance Bouma and Vegas' David Perron shove each other in front of the Golden Knights net in the first period Tuesday night. (Getty Images)

After 40 solid minutes, the Hawks couldn’t get the final 20, as the remarkable Knights improved to 20-4-2 at T-Mobile Arena. Staked to a 2-1 lead on goals by Tommy Wingels (elevated to the top line and the power play after one of the few energetic efforts in Monday’s dreadful 6-1 loss to the Coyotes) and Alex DeBrincat (at the end of a strong shift with Patrick Sharp), the Hawks and goaltender Jeff Glass unraveled early in the third period, as the Hawks lost in regulation after leading through two periods for the first time this season.

It’s the 17th time the defensively deficient Hawks have given up four goals in a game this season.

“There’s no words left,” Jonathan Toews said. “It’s about what you go out there and do. Obviously, I’m out there for a couple goals-against again tonight, so I’ve got to be better defensively and got to find ways to create offense. It’s been tough to do that lately.”

Vegas opened the third on a fifth consecutive power play, and finally broke through the Hawks penalty kill when Brad Hunt scored from the point at 1:14 to tie it 2-2. Less than two minutes later, Reilly Smith cut across the slot and went upstairs to beat Glass and make it 3-2. Less than two minutes after that, David Perron beat Glass from the top of the right circle to make it 4-2. Three goals in 3:40, on three shots, and the Hawks moved further from their 10th straight playoff appearance (a near impossibility at this point) and closer to the draft lottery.

“We give up one early on on the penalty kill, so be it, we’ve got to respond, we’ve got to stay up on the bench,” Toews said. “We can’t just fold up and say, ‘Oh, I guess that’s it.’ I don’t know. It’s frustrating, because throughout our lineup, we don’t have that response when we need it. We need to find ways to bounce back and stay in those games and not get frustrated, not let that noise, or the crowd, or a bad call, or a goal against us just sink our ship, and shut ‘er down for the last 20 minutes.”

Tomas Nosek added an empty-netter for the final margin.

Glass gave up four goals on 32 shots. Goaltending hasn’t been the Hawks’ only issue, but it’s been lousy lately, and Joel Quenneville hinted that J-F Berube, who recently returned from injury, could be called up soon.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com