The Chicago Blackhawks entered Thursday night’s game against the co-leaders of the Eastern Conference, the Florida Panthers, looking to end a two-game slide following a heartbreaking loss at home against the Buffalo Sabres. In that game, the Hawks squandered a 4–0 advantage midway through only to let a 5–4 lead with just under three minutes to play turn into a 6–5 regulation loss. The game against the Panthers at FLA Live Arena marked career game No. 1,000 for Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who became the eighth player in team history to reach that milestone. The Blackhawks started Collin Delia between the pipes against two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky.
It took 41 seconds for the Panthers to take an early lead…or at least they thought they did. Ex-Blackhawk defenseman Gustav Forsling fired a shot from the point, which was turned aside by Delia, who left a juicy rebound that Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov jumped on for the goal. The replay crew in Toronto called for the review and would eventually overturn it after the video review clearly showed Barkov kicked the puck into the open net, so the game remained scoreless.
With 96 seconds left in the period, Barkov would tally one that counted, as he drove the net and scored on the backhand for his 30th of the season to give Florida a 1–0 lead. For the period, the Panthers outshot the Blackhawks 17–11.
About six minutes into the period, the Blackhawks nearly tied it, but Alex DeBrincat was robbed on the doorstep by Bobrovsky. Nearly two minutes later, Ryan Lomberg skated through the neutral zone, past a flat-footed Calvin de Haan and in alone on Delia, where he beat the netminder on a breakaway for his ninth of the season and fourth in the last three games to give Florida a 2–0 lead.
The Panthers extended their lead to 3–0 when a Mason Marchment pass from behind the goal line did not connect with Sam Reinhart in the slot, but Forsling gathered it at the blue line and fired it past Delia for his third of the season. The Hawks challenged the goal for goaltender interference, but the call was upheld and the Blackhawks were assessed a minor penalty for delay of game. For the period, the Hawks outshot the Panthers 17–11 and through two, the teams were even at 28 in shots on goal.
With 6:13 left, Barkov scored his second of the game and 31st of the season on a two-man advantage to give Florida a 4–0 lead. After a face-off win by Barkov, Claude Giroux fed Reinhart, who found Jonathan Huberdeau in the slot, then passed to Barkov in the left circle, who fired a one-timer through the five hole of Delia. On the goal, Huberdeau notched his 71st assist of the season, which set a new single-season NHL record by a left winger. The score would hold up, as the Panthers completed the sweep of the two-game season series against the Hawks. In the third period, the Panthers outshot the Blackhawks 15–10. For the game, the Panthers outshot the Hawks 44–37.
The good, the bad, the ugly
Delia: While he gave up four goals, none were his fault and the score could have been a lot worse had he not made some point-blank saves against the league’s top offense. Bobrovsky was that much better, as he played one of his best games as a Panther. Florida fans will certainly hope he can play this way in the postseason.
De Haan and Seth Jones: The duo was on the ice for two Florida goals at even strength and one that was disallowed less than a minute into the game. De Haan had a lot of trouble with the Panthers’ speed up front, as evidenced by the goal scored by Lomberg in the middle period.
The Blackhawks’ offense: After scoring 21 goals in the previous five games, the Hawks came up empty, albeit against a team that is clearly a Stanley Cup contender. The Hawks were able to generate chances, but Bobrovsky stopped all 37 shots he faced.
The result of the game certainly overshadowed a special night for the Hawks’ captain. On the ice, there were some positives beyond Delia. Taylor Raddysh continued his strong play since his arrival from the Tampa Bay Lightning, as he registered four shots on goal and set up a few quality scoring chances. Speaking of Tampa Bay, the Hawks’ road swing through Florida continues Friday night against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning, where they will greet their former teammate, Brandon Hagel. Puck drop is at 6 p.m. CDT on NBCSCH with the radio call on WGN 720.