The “Jekyll and Hyde” Chicago Blackhawks stormed into Dallas this past week looking like a playoff team in their three-game series against last season’s Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, only to look like a sure-fire lottery pick team moments later. If you asked Blackhawk fans if they would take three out of six points against the Lightning at the beginning of that series, most would have taken the offer. What hurt the most though, on Sunday versus the Lightning, they looked like a team that was a period away from snagging five points instead of three.
What team would shown up in Dallas and Florida after such an up-and-down showing? It ended up we got to see both.
Tuesday, March 9 — Chicago left seeing stars in Dallas
Blackhawks forward Mattias Janmark scored against his former team, which ended up being the only bright spot in a 6–1 beating at the hands of the Dallas Stars. Janmark’s goal gave the crafty winger nine markers this season but would cap off an otherwise difficult evening for the Stockholm, Sweden, native as he finished the contest with a -3 on the scoresheet.
Chicago starting goaltender Malcolm Subban displayed his regular lack of rebound control, his inability to find the puck in traffic on a regular basis and stopped only 31 of the 37 shots he faced. His defense in front of him was nothing to write home about either, but Subban spotted Dallas two goals before the Chicago tally shrunk the Dallas lead to 2–1. However, four unanswered goals later and Dallas finished off the Blackhawks 6–1.
With the lackluster showing this evening, this looked like the Blackhawks team many thought fans would watch on a more consistent basis at the beginning of the season, not the potential playoff team we have seen. A bounce-back game was a must, as the Stars chase the Blackhawks for that fourth place spot or the Central Division.
Thursday, March 11 — Blackhawks do a lot with a little
“It’s not how, it’s how many,” said Chicago television analyst Eddie Olczyk on Thursday night about Chicago’s surprising four goals in eight shots at the time. The Blackhawks showed they could take advantage of poor goaltending by Stars’ netminder Anton Khudobin when scoring scoring on half their shots. As impressive of a stat as that can look, those eight shots came in the first 34 minutes of the game. Sometimes the game of hockey is unexplainable, but the Blackhawks were ecstatic to take two points from Dallas in this evening when they were able to hang on for a 4–2 victory.
Chicago jumped on the board when forward Dominik Kubalik scored his 10th goal on the season. First-year Blackhawk Carl Soderberg, a forward with excellent hockey IQ and has shown to be more than just a late signing to fill the void when Kirby Dach was injured, tipped home a shot by defenseman Adam Boqvist from the point, screening Khudobin and adding another power play goal to the impressive Blackhawk special teams this season.
Duncan Keith fired his first goal of the season, while the highly offensively skilled Alex DeBrincat buried his 15th of the season late in the second period to give Chicago a lopsided 4–0 lead. The Blackhawks looked to be in control of the game despite being outshot by more than three times by the Stars.
Boqvist gets it on net and Soderberg tips it past Khudobin!
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) March 12, 2021
The feel of the game changed dramatically when Dallas scored two goals midway through the third period to cut the Chicago lead in half at 4–2. Dallas registered a late push that a young Chicago team looked like it may crack, but goaltender Kevin Lankinen turned aside all the Dallas chances. At the end of the day, after a loud sigh of relief could be heard all the way back in Chicago, the road team won a game that was nothing if not underwhelming for the visitors.
Lankinen stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced on the evening. A victory like Thursday night’s is proof that Chicago will continue to lean on their Finnish goaltender to stay in playoff contention. It was expected to see Lankinen back in net against Florida, and that is exactly what happened when Colliton faced off against former Chicago bench boss Joel Quenneville in south Florida.
Saturday, March 13 — Florida figures out Lankinen
Chicago jumped out to an early lead when winger Brandon Hagel finished off a nifty give-and-go with Kubalik finishing with Hagel’s second goal this season. The early lead would not last long, as Florida scored four straight goals—three coming in the second period of play—to give the visiting Blackhawks the 4–2 loss.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) March 14, 2021
Boqvist scored Chicago’s late third period goal when the game seemed out of reach, giving the second-year Swedish native his second goal this season. Chicago’s late push would come up empty and Chicago did not have an answer for Panther goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
The middling Blackhawks stand as middle-of-the-pack as they could at 14–9–5—some would say 14–14 overall—and continue to struggle at 5-on-5 to generate much offense. Without solid goaltending from Lankinen, a dynamic duo of DeBrincat and Patrick Kane scoring nightly and an inconsistent defensive group, Chicago may not cling onto fourth place in the Central Division.
Chicago’s next five games consist of one more game against the Florida Panthers before traveling across Florida for another two-game series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Chicago then travels home for two more games in Chicago against the Panthers to close out a difficult stretch of games. If the “Jekyll” Chicago team shows up each night, Chicago should have some success against teams that are more talented against them. The “Hyde” Blackhawks would probably be an indication that the last playoff spot in the division could slowly be slipping away.