The Chicago Blackhawks have been playing a lot of hockey, from long road trips to back-to-back games to three games in four days. It’s going to take its toll.
It looked like it was doing just that on Friday night.
Kris Versteeg’s power-play goal tied the game in the second period, but Kyle Palmeri had the shootout winner as the Blackhawks lost to the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 at the United Center.
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Antti Raanta stopped 24-of-26 in regulation and overtime but allowed two in the shootout, including Palmeri’s winner. Ben Smith also scored for the Blackhawks, who are now 0-2-1 in their last three games after winning the final six on their seven-game road trip.
Is it a slump? Not really. A lull? Probably. There’s no doubt the legs were looking heavy on Friday, but the Blackhawks talked more about failing to get another point more than potential fatigue.
“You can’t overreact to it, but you have to keep improving on the little things you do well as a team,” Jonathan Toews said. “A lot of the wins we’ve had, especially on that road trip, were close games. We found ways to win, whether it was protecting a lead or coming back from a goal (down) or two.”
True, but the Blackhawks were probably feeling fresher then than they are now. Coach Joel Quenneville admitted the busy schedule could be a factor.
“Tough game,” he said. “We’ve been busy. Last night (in Minnesota) was our own fault. (On Tuesday) Dallas’ goalie played very well. Tonight, it was one of those games, it could’ve gone either way.”
Quenneville’s harshest words went to the penalty kill. The one they gave up Friday was a real dagger, not because it was the game-winner, but how it happened: Ryan Getzlaf’s goal came on the Ducks’ lone power play, and with one second remaining on it.
“I thought that would be the end of it. That’s when you hit rock bottom, when you score with one second to go on one power play, when it’s been a disaster,” he said. “We can only go from there, right up.”
Still, the Blackhawks had their chances to pull this one out. They had a few choice opportunities in overtime, as did the Ducks, who thought they won it in overtime but were nixed by a bad goaltender interference call. But the Blackhawks couldn’t get one more past Jonas Hiller, who stopped 23-of-25 in regulation and overtime.
“I thought we carried the play in overtime too, had chances to put it away,” Versteeg said. “When you leave games to a shootout, you don’t know what could happen.”
Raanta, who was strong late in the third period and overtime, felt pretty good in his first home start.
“I was feeling pretty normal; I didn’t have too much pressure about the home ice,” he said. “I would’ve loved to get a couple more shots in the first 10 minutes. Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry, they were pretty dangerous every time they came over the blue line. It was a new experience for me again, and nice to play on the home ice.”
The Blackhawks are having a bit of a lull right now. The schedule’s been busy and the legs are heavy. That’s no excuse for that penalty kill, but it’s a good reason why they were sloughing their way through this one on Friday.
The breaks will return. So will the energy -- and the victories.
“The last few games, bounces haven’t gone our way,” Toews said. “We’ll keep improving, but not overreacting to the result just because it’s not what we want. We’ll get it soon enough.”