The Blackhawks held a 5-4 lead with under 12 minutes remaining, but they couldn’t hold on against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Chicago Blackhawks were defeated by the St. Louis Blues for the third time in as many meetings this season by a score of 6-5 on Tuesday night at Enterprise Center. Duncan Keith tallied his 100th career goal, and Corey Crawford made 31 saves to keep the score close, but the Blackhawks couldn’t hold off the current frontrunners in the Western Conference.
“We turned pucks over,” coach Jeremy Colliton frustratedly told reporters after the game. “We turn the puck over on the second goal, when we’re up 3-1 and in control of the game… turn the puck over on the fourth goal… I don’t know how you expect to win when you make those types of mental mistakes.”
With the loss, the Blackhawks drop to 27-28-8 through 63 games and remain eight points back of the Nashville Predators for the second wild-card playoff spot. Of course, with the departure of goaltender Robin Lehner during Monday’s trade deadline, the Hawks playoff hopes are all but lost.
The Blackhawks didn’t get off to a particularly strong start on Tuesday, as Connor Murphy was whistled for tripping just 11 seconds in. Brayden Schenn found the back of the net 22 seconds later to put St. Louis up 1-0 after Jaden Schwartz made a beautiful cross-crease pass. Jonathan Toews wasn’t physical enough on his back-check of Schwartz to prevent the pass from occurring.
The Blues dominated the Hawks in the opening 10 minutes, but Crawford stood on his head per usual to hold the score to 1-0. Coming into Tuesday’s game, Crawford had allowed three goals or fewer in each of his last 12 starts.
Keith answered back for the Blackhawks at 10:55 on the powerplay for his 100th NHL goal after Toews beat Ryan O’Reilly cleanly on an offensive-zone faceoff.
Keith’s second goal of the season and first in 40 games put him in elite company in Blackhawks’ franchise history, not that he wasn’t there already. With the goal, Keith joins Bob Murray, Doug Wilson, and Brent Seabrook as the only defensemen to score 100 goals with the Blackhawks.
Murphy gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead at 14:09 in a similar fashion as the first goal. Once again, Toews won an offensive-zone faceoff cleanly, but this time Murphy beat Blues’ goaltender Jordan Binnington from the point. Murphy’s fifth goal of the season snapped a 20-game goal drought.
The first half of the period didn’t look promising for the Blackhawks, but they out-worked the Blues in the second half to take a 2-1 lead into the intermission.
The Blackhawks had 1:29 of powerplay time remaining to start the middle frame, and Patrick Kane cashed in with 16 seconds left for his 28th goal of the season to make it 3-1. Keith picked up the primary assist for his sixth point in the last four games.
Kane’s goal gave the Blackhawks multiple power-play tallies for just the second time in 2019-20. The first was back on Nov. 7 against the Vancouver Canucks.
Robert Thomas cut the lead to 3-2 at 7:38 after Murphy and Alex Nylander left him all alone at the left circle. Another careless mistake comes back to bite the Blackhawks.
Despite scoring a goal, Murphy played uncharacteristically poor defense all night and took a penalty in the first minute of the contest. As for Nylander, he played a team-low 8:26 (second-lowest was Highmore at 9:46) but did record an assist and one takeaway.
The Blues made a strong push after falling behind by two, but the Hawks — with much thanks to Crawford– managed to hold their division rival to only one goal in the period.
O’Reilly had a goal waved off by the officials for batting the puck in with his hand, but he tied the score for the Blues a second time (this one counted) a few moments later on a breakaway. The 2019 Conn Smyth Trophy winner split Keith and Murphy in transition and beat Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 3-3.
Zach Sanford gave the Blues a 4-3 lead just 16 seconds later with a curl-and-drag move that effectively used Murphy as a screen on Crawford. Olli Maatta was another Blackhawks defenseman that struggled mightily on Tuesday, as his turnover on a defensive-zone outlet pass led to Sanford’s goal. Maatta finished with a -2 plus/minus rating and two blocks in 19:47.
The Blackhawks fourth line responded just 1:13 after Sanford’s strike, as Matthew Highmore jumped on a rebound and beat Binnington for his second goal of the year and first since Dec. 27 vs. the New York Islanders.
Highmore may provide minimal offensive production (just five points in 29 games this season), but he’s a responsible fourth-line forward to play alongside David Kampf. In Highmore’s last 13 starts, he’s finished as a minus just one time.
Dylan Strome found Brandon Saad in a soft spot in the Blues’ coverage to put the Blackhawks up 5-4 at 8:16. Saad now has 19 goals on the year and eight in 15 games since returning from an ankle injury on Jan. 18.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s a good thing for us, no question,” Colliton said on the powerplay’s three-goal effort. “We haven’t been able to get it firing consistently. It seems like we’re there. It can help you win games, especially on the road, it got us back into this one and gives us a chance to win in the third.”
Unfortunately, the Blackhawks lead didn’t last long, as Justin Faulk tied the score at 9:28 with a one-timer from the point. The puck appeared to change direction off Slater Koekkoek’s leg right in front of Crawford.
The little things came back to bite the Blackhawks on Tuesday, such as the defensive-zone turnovers and untimely penalties. Kirby Dach was called for hooking away from the play with 8:23 remaining, which is an unacceptable penalty to take in the deciding stretch of a game.
As good teams do, the Blues converted on the ensuing powerplay to take a 6-5 lead and seal the victory. Maatta committed another defensive-zone turnover, and Sanford capitalized for his second goal of the game and the fifth power-play tally of the matchup.
“Obviously a few different changes in the lead there and we had the lead, so back and forth all game,” Keith said. “But as the games are, you’d like to come out on top and obviously it didn’t happen. A lot of breakdowns defensively and that’s the game.”
Immediately following Tuesday’s contest, the Blackhawks hopped on a flight to Tampa Bay, where they will face the Lightning at Amalie Arena on Thursday night. These two teams met way back on Nov. 21 at the United Center, with the Lightning coming out on top 4-2 behind Curtin McElhinney’s 32 saves.
Tampa Bay is currently 40-18-5 with 85 points, which is the second-most in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL. After getting off to a rough start to the season, the Lightning are 23-5-1 in their last 29 games.
The contest is slated for 6:00 p.m. CT and is scheduled to be on NBCSCH, SUN, and NHL.TV.
For more Blackhawks news and updates, follow the author (@JackBushman2) on Twitter. Make sure to check out the author’s podcast, Talkin’ Hawkey, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Twitter (@TalkinHawkey).