The Blackhawks came into Sunday evening’s game against the Florida Panthers riding a season-best three-game win streak.
And they watched it evaporate in 31 seconds.
Before the game, the Hawks recalled center Jacob Nilsson from Rockford and sent Luke Johnson to the IceHogs. Nilsson, 25, played for Jeremy Colliton in Sweden and signed with the Blackhawks in May. He had 14 points in 31 games with Rockford and started the game as the fourth line center between Chris Kunitz and Brendan Perlini
Chicago started the game well, carrying much of the action over the game’s opening ten minutes. Connor Murphy got the Hawks on the board first with his first goal of the year at 13:23.
Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini picked the assists – a (former) Coyote Special.
Unfortunately the lead didn’t make it three minutes before Jayce Hawryluk scored his first of the year to tie the game.
At the end of 20 minutes, the shots were nine for each side and the goals were tied at one.
Hawryluk scored his second of the game to give Florida a 2-1 lead at 2:35 into the second period.
But that lead, like Chicago’s in the first, didn’t last long.
At 4:56 into the second with the Blackhawks on the power play, Alex DeBrincat attacked and put a pass off Strome’s right skate. The kick hit the post and pounced behind Florida netminder James Reimer across the crease to DeBrincat, who tapped home his 17th of the year.
Strome and Jonathan Toews were credited with assists on DeBrincat’s game-tying goal.
The game stayed tied for almost 12 minutes, but then the wheels came flying off. Mike Hoffman gave Florida a lead with a power play goal and Jared McCann extended the lead to two 31 seconds later.
When the dust settled after 40 minutes, the Blackhawks had been out-shot 14-8 in the second and allowed three goals in the middle period.
When, before the third period started, Pat Foley asked assistant coach Barry Smith what his favorite line had been thus far, Smith quickly said “You guys” – referring to Foley and Eddie Olczyk. The broadcasters laughed it off but Smith was clearly not happy with the play he’d seed in the second period.
Denis Malgin added to the onslaught 59 seconds into the third period, giving Florida a 5-2 lead.
Colliton turned on his blender and mixed things up often after the Malgin goal. Gustav Forsling had a huge hit, and the Blackhawks appeared to respond with a quick burst of offense. And at 9:35 Strome added to his multi-point night with ninth goal of the season.
Strome has scored six times since joining the Blackhawks and continues to be comfortable at both the left wing and center positions. Patrick Kane and Murphy were credited with assists on Strome’s goal.
Cam Ward went to the bench with 2:20 remaining in regulation and Florida started a slow game of icing the puck. The Hawks continued to struggle to complete a pass or get into the zone effectively, and it eventually cost them.
Frank Vatrano found the empty net with 61 seconds left in regulation to extend Florida’s lead back to three.
Strome was one of very few bright spots for the Hawks. He won eight of his 12 faceoffs and had three points in 19:36 on the ice. Toews had one assist and won 12 of 21 at the dot but finished minus-three; Brandon Saad is in the midst of another rough stretch trying to find offense.
Murphy skated 20:30 and had one goal and one assist with a team-leading four hits.
Dylan Sikura played a better game and saw more ice time on Sunday, finishing tied with DeBrincat for the team lead with four shots on net.
In his Blackhawks debut, Nilsson skated 6:47 with one hit and finished minus-one. He won one of three faceoffs.
Kunitz returned for some unknown reason and skated 7:27 with one shot on net and two hits.
Ward stopped 21 of 26 in the loss.