Along the Boards: Blackhawks fall 2–1 to lowly Red Wings

  

The Chicago Blackhawks were riding high entering Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit on Friday night after four straight wins. The game was a bit of homecoming of sorts for Alex DeBrincat, who grew up just north of Detroit in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

The Blackhawks were very shorthanded on the backend for Friday’s game. After news surfaced that Lucas Carlsson had entered concussion protocol after taking a puck to the head in Thursday’s game, Dennis Gilbert was recalled from Rockford. Initially, it seems like Gilbert was merely an insurance policy, as Nick Seeler was slotted to join the lineup instead of Gilbert. However, just before puck drop, it was announced that Adam Boqvist would not play due to a wrist injury, so Gilbert indeed drew into the lineup in place of the young Swede.

Another interesting note ahead of Friday’s game was Corey Crawford getting the start again in net. It is rare for a goalie to play both games of a back-to-back, but Chicago head coach Jeremy Colliton went with the veteran netminder over giving newly acquired Malcolm Subban a chance in net against the league’s worst team.

The first period began well for the Blackhawks, especially for hometown boy DeBrincat. Just over a minute into the game, DeBrincat and Drake Caggiula had a two-on-one opportunity and DeBrincat, who was ultimately the trigger man, was robbed by Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

The first period would not yield much else for either side and both teams went into the dressing room with no scoring in the first.

Just 20 seconds into the middle frame, the home team struck. After the puck was being played on the left-wing boards, Dylan Larkin found the puck and dished it from the boards to Tyler Bertuzzi, who was sitting just off to Crawford’s opposite side in the slot. Bertuzzi wasted no time and fired the puck past Crawford for his 19th of the season and a 1–0 Red Wings advantage.

The Hawks had two two-on-one opportunities following the Detroit goal, however neither worked out after a bit of a missed pass from Brandon Saad to Jonathan Toews and a quality save on Dylan Strome by Bernier.

Around the midway point of the second period, the Red Wings found themselves on the power play. Just after the 10-minute mark, there was a huge board battle in the left wing corner of the ice, occupying most of the Blackhawks’ penalty killers. After the puck was freed by Frans Nielsen, Gustav Lindstrom found Robby Fabbri and, with the puck on a silver platter, Fabbri found the back of the net on the one-timer to give the Red Wings a 2–0 lead.

Both goals were excellent one-time chances for the home club. It is safe to say Corey Crawford did not stand much of a chance on either play. However, on the second goal, Fabbri’s shot actually deflected off of Gilbert, who dove in front of the shot to block it. Gilbert’s attempt changed the angle of the shot on Crawford and made the shot increasingly more difficult to stop.

The Blackhawks almost beat Bernier with around eight minutes remaining, as Kirby Dach thought he put the puck behind the Red Wings goaltender on a DeBrincat shot rebound. However, the puck clanked the post and danced along the line, but never crossed, and play continued.

It took the remainder of the period and a bit of line blending before the Hawks could beat Bernier. With just over a minute left in the period, Colliton threw Toews and Saad out with Patrick Kane to get something going. On their rush up the ice, Saad initially found Toews, but he lost the puck and it dribbled behind Detroit’s net. Toews regained possession and found Saad in front of Bernier. Without missing a beat, Saad quickly moved the puck to Kane, who was backdoor, and he potted his 31st goal of the season to cut the Wings’ lead in half at 2–1.

However, despite some good chances in the third period, the Blackhawks could not crack Bernier the rest of the way and saw their winning streak come to a screeching halt, as the Blackhawks dropped Friday’s contest 2–1 in Detroit.

Along the Boards

It is sad when the worst team in the league handles you as if it is nothing. Yes, the Blackhawks had some quality chances throughout the game, such as DeBrincat’s two-on-one snipe, Dach’s rebound chance and Kane’s goal, but this team never sustained any meaningful pressure on the Red Wings for much of the game. It is tough to beat a team on a back-to-back, but this Blackhawks team had a lot of success in the second half of back-to-backs this season.

Now, a big reason for that success was the goaltending duo of Crawford and recently traded Robin Lehner. Lehner started the first half of most back-to-backs and a healthy, strong Crawford cleaned up the second half. It was a sensational combination. However, fast forward to now, Lehner is gone, Malcolm Subban is now the Blackhawks’ backup goalie to Crawford, and this coaching staff refuses to play the new netminder.

Subban may have struggled this season in his time with Vegas, but you would think the young goalie would get a chance against the league’s worst team, right? Wrong. Subban once again watched from the visitor’s bench in Detroit, as Crawford took his second game in two days after helping the Blackhawks defeat the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night at the United Center.

It is also worth mentioning that Boqvist’s wrist injury really hurt the Blackhawks defensively, as did Carlsson’s injury. The two young defensemen were playing very well, and Boqvist was finding his touch as the offensive playmaker fans hoped he would become when the Hawks drafted him eighth overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Due to the injuries, enter Seeler and Gilbert, who both played an average game at best. Gilbert turned the puck over quite a bit and there were a few chances where Crawford bailed out his young defenseman.

It would be easy to blame Friday’s loss on the lack of defensive depth, but it really seemed that this team just looked tired. Fortunately for the Hawks, Friday’s game was only one of four road contests in the entire month of March. The Blackhawks get plenty of home cooking in March, restarting that trend on Sunday night when they welcome the Western Conference leading St. Louis Blues to town.

The Blackhawks are still mathematically in the playoff picture. However, I am going to be the pin that pricks the balloon. This team is not making the playoffs. They do not have enough depth right now to make a meaningful push. If Lehner was still in Chicago, Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook were healthy and the Hawks were at full strength coming down the stretch, I’d say there is a chance. However, Lehner is now in Las Vegas, de Haan and Seabrook are done for the year, along with Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith, and this team looks tired because of that lack of depth. They may hang in there down the stretch, but they will likely be picking in the top 10 of June’s draft if the standings stay the way they are. Now, this could be a good thing if the Hawks add another piece such as Boqvist or Dach, who were both top-10 picks over the last two years, but that will be up to Stan Bowman, or whoever the general manager is come June, to make a very meaningful decision for this team’s future.

News

Just before the submission of this recap, the Blackhawks reassigned Gilbert back to the Rockford IceHogs. This may indicate that Boqvist is healthy and will play Sunday since it was confirmed that Carlsson has a concussion.

The Blackhawks return to action on Sunday against the St. Louis Blues. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CDT at the United Center.

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