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The Chicago Blackhawks rolled into Amerant Bank Arena on Sunday looking for their third straight win over a team from the Sunshine State. They beat these Florida Panthers eight days ago behind a solid first period and a stellar effort by goaltender Petr Mrazek over the final 40 minutes. The Panthers were the better team for all 60 minutes, but the Blackhawks gave it their best show in a 4-3 loss.
The odds were stacked against the Blackhawks as Jarred Tinordi, Andreas Athanasiou, and Taylor Hall were all out with injuries. Plus, Mrazek was on the bench in favor of Arvid Soderblom. Meanwhile, Sam Bennett returned for the Panthers, and Sergei Bobrovsky was between the pipes after the Blackhawks faced backup Anthony Stolarz last week.
Soderblom’s afternoon got off to a rough start when Oliver Ekman-Larsson deposited a puck past him just 39 seconds after the opening draw. Jason Dickinson answered less than seven minutes later by tipping home an excellent setup feed from Lukas Reichel.
Sam Reinhart scored his first goal of the day on a power play about five minutes later. It seemed that the Panthers would take that lead into the first intermission, but then Connor Bedard did this:
The middle frame saw Reinhart give the home team a 3-2 lead with a backhand goal. The advantage only lasted 78 seconds as Bedard scored another highlight-reel goal, where he fired the puck out of midair for his fourth goal in the last two games.
The third period was more of what we’ve seen over the previous four frames versus Florida, where the Panthers dominated the play. Carter Verhagehe scored the eventual game-winning goal on an early power play.
The Blackhawks had a chance to tie the game late but came up just short. The bottom line is they spent too much time in their own end of the rink and couldn’t produce a consistent offensive attack. Sounds familiar, right?
Jay: Nick Foligno Answers the Bell…As Usual
Maybe I’ve made too much of this “leadership” and “mentor” thing this season. I’ve written about it. I’ve talked about it a lot on the CHGO Blackhawks shows, and I do feel that, in general, “leadership” is overestimated and overblown in sports.
With Nick Foligno, it feels different. From the day he became a Blackhawk, he has done everything Kyle Davidson has wanted him to do and more.
He is always available after a tough loss. He offers great insight into the game and what it takes to compete and win in the NHL. Most importantly, he leads by example on the ice.
After Bedard scored two goals, Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov took the opportunity to line Bedard up for a hard hit along the boards. My immediate thought was, “Someone has to get him.” There was Foligno, immediately, grabbing Kulikov and letting him hear about it.
Whether or not the hit was clean (I think it was) doesn’t really matter. When your star player takes a hard, questionable hit, there’s no time to determine whether or not the hit is worthy of retaliation. Foligno went right after Kulikov. He got hit with a hooking and roughing penalty for his efforts, but the Hawks killed off the four-minute power play in impressive fashion.
Logical or not, things like this bring a team together. Hockey culture is hockey culture, for better or worse. Players like Bedard play with more confidence, knowing their teammates have their backs. Opponents hesitate before delivering a big hit, knowing they’ll have to answer.
These are the lessons Foligno is teaching the team on and off the ice.
Mario: We Have Connor Bedard and You Don’t
It’s no secret that Connor Bedard is already a special player. His abilities with the puck are undeniably generational as an 18-year-old playing in the NHL. His goal-scoring ability has been on full display in these past two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. With two goals in back-to-back games, Bedard now has nine on the season in 13 games as a rookie and is scoring at a 56-goal pace.
Only four players in NHL history have scored 50 or more goals in a rookie season:
Teemu Selanne – 76 goals in 1992-93
Mike Bossy – 53 goals in 1977-78
Alex Ovechkin – 52 goals in 2005-06
Joe Nieuwnedyk – 51 goals in 1987-88
Only two Blackhawks players have scored 40 goals or more in a rookie season:
Steve Larmer – 43 goals in 1982-83
Darryl Sutter – 40 goals in 1980-81
None of these six players did so as a teenager.
Bedard also became the seventh 18-year-old in NHL history to have back-to-back multi-goal games with his two-goal performance tonight.
Bedard’s the best goal-scoring threat on the Blackhawks and in all honesty, he’s the best player on the roster in most-to-all offensive categories. He’s likely going to be that player his entire career in Chicago and getting him some offensive help will bode-well for the organization.
But until that time, it’s special to watch him not only scoring in spectacular fashion, but watching him realize that he can do special things in the NHL now. It took a few games, but after putting the puck in the net seven times in his last six games, nine times in the last eight games if you counted the overturned by a millimeter goal against Boston, his confidence is sky-rocketing. He’s getting to, or already at a place where he expects to do something that drops jaws. If you weren’t already on notice, the other 31 teams in the league are totally screwed.
Greg: Blackhawks Showed a Ton of Character in Loss
During the 2022-23 season, the Blackhawks lost many games because of the vast talent gap, not because of the effort. Today’s defeat reminded me of a lot of what we saw a year ago and had Luke Richardson’s stamp all over it.
The lineup missed a ton of offensive ability with Hall and Athanasiou off the ice. Replacing them with Boris Katchouk and Reese Johnson doesn’t exactly give you hope for much production. However, this team showed excellent resiliency, tying the game on three separate occasions.
The best show of character came late in the second period when Dmitry Kulikov drilled Bedard face-first into the boards. Nick Foligno immediately hooked Kulikov to the ice and showed him that he was not going to be allowed with a series of punches to the head. The veteran forward was given a four-minute double minor for the reaction. The Blackhawks rewarded him by killing off both penalties. Those are the types of things that bond a team together. Knowing that all 18 skaters on the ice are fighting for each other and pulling in the same direction can help shorten the talent gap on most nights.
Even at the end of the game, the Blackhawks still tried hard to even things up, and Tyler Johnson had a wide-open net in the final seconds, but the puck just rolled off his stick. This is a squad that didn’t want to throw in the towel despite getting outplayed. That is precisely what Richardson wants to see.
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