SUNRISE, Fla. — Those third periods. For the Chicago Blackhawks, they’re just becoming a thorn in the side, 20 minutes worth of no scoring for them, goals for their opponent and harrowing moments.
Once again, they had a tough third period on Tuesday night. And once again, they overcame it to take two points.
Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell scored in the second period, and Toews had the winner in the shootout as the Blackhawks beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 at BB&T Center. Once again, it was not a comfortable night for the Blackhawks. At least it wasn’t a comfortable ending. But as much as the Blackhawks struggle in those third periods, they find a way to keep it together in the end.
“It’s not that we’re not aware of the habit we have of giving up leads in the third,” said Toews, who beat Jacob Markstrom five-hole in the shootout. “Maybe it’s a combination of us having to play better and picking up our energy and maybe the way the other team is coming at us. We talked about it going into the third period that we wanted to learn from our mistakes. Didn’t quite do the job we wanted to do. All in all we did some good things, though.”
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The best thing they did was win, obviously. Toews ultimately got the shootout winner, with Patrick Sharp also beating Markstrom, eliminating any Panthers chance of a third-round shootout equalizer. And as far as that third period, which the Blackhawks started with a 2-0 lead and ended tied 2-2 and headed to overtime, they’ll keep addressing it.
“It’s starting to become a bad habit of ours to give up leads late,” Sharp said. “We come out well, we’re prepared to play, we’re in their building and they’re going to make their push and they kind of build momentum of that first one. Who knows, we’ll take a look at it. But we’ll take the positive of getting two points off it.”
Coach Joel Quenneville is ultimately concerned with getting victories, even the tense variety.
“I thought it was encouraging we got two points,” he said. “Get a 2-0 lead, then it’s 2-2 and there’s a lot of time left. We stabilized the game at that point and found a way to get two at the end. We’re having trouble scoring in the third but we didn’t give up a ton. We’re not playing any different; it’s not like we’re sitting on leads. But right now, we’re not complaining, let’s put it that way.”
The Blackhawks did make some mistakes in the third, though, and the Panthers capitalized on them. Tomas Fleischmann got the Panthers on the board, as he beat Corey Crawford 9:04 into the third period. Less than three minutes later a bad Blackhawks turnover went right to Dmitry Kulikov, who fired high to tie it 2-2. The Blackhawks have now been outscored 10-3 in third periods this season.
Tim Thomas started for the Panthers, and was playing well en route to stopping 25 of 27. But he suffered an unknown injury with 2:59 remaining in regulation — the 39-year-old goaltender is coming off a groin injury — and Markstrom took over. The Blackhawks took advantage of that in the shootout.
The third periods continue to be a strange 20-minute frame for the Blackhawks. Yes, they’re bending, but they’re not breaking. They’ll keep trying to figure out what’s going on, and they’ll keep trying to eke out two points every chance they get.
“It’s going to happen when a team’s going to push hard and we just have to find a way to be more frustrating to play against,” Toews said. “We’re maybe trying to create too much and not playing smart and giving up goals late in games. We’ll learn from that. But at some point we need to get the point across that, when we build these leads, we need to keep getting better as the game goes along.”