SUNRISE, Fla. — One thing became clear from the Chicago Blackhawks’ 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers on Sunday: Not only can Connor Bedard help a team win, he can mask when a team should be losing badly.
This wasn’t a close game the Hawks let get away.
“We were just sloppy,” Nick Foligno said. “We didn’t seem to make the plays necessary to get our game established until later, but then still, some individual efforts by Connor and some big goals got us back in the game.”
The Panthers opened the scoring 39 seconds into the game. Later, the Hawks penalty kill gave up two goals.
But as Foligno alluded, Bedard landed a couple of quick strikes to give the Hawks a puncher’s chance.
He scored with 59 seconds left in the first period to tie the game 2-2.
Then in the second, Bedard answered Sam Reinhart’s goal a minute and 18 seconds later to tie it again, 3-3.
“Those are special,” Foligno said. “Just great individual efforts.
“That’s what he does for you. I’ve played with a couple like that, you call them ‘gamebreakers.’ They either win you the game or they keep you in a game, like tonight where maybe we didn’t deserve that, but he’s able to do it sometimes.”
Coach Luke Richardson said of Bedard, “He was our only guy really looking to attack and shoot, especially in the second period there.”
But the Hawks couldn’t muster a response to Carter Verhaeghe’s power-play goal that secured Florida’s 4-3 win at Amerant Bank Arena.
“We’re in that dogfight, so to speak, and we’ve got to learn to win (in) different ways, Foligno said. “That’s important for our group and we’ve got to find a way to solve that for next game.”
Bedard was in no mood to pump up his production or take stock in moral victories.
“We haven’t won two in a row,” he said. “It’s frustrating whenever you lose, but I think they probably deserved it more than us.
“We got our chances and we were in the game, which is a good thing. But it’s frustrating, for sure.”
Here are eight takeaways from Sunday’s game.
Bedard recorded two goals and two assists Thursday in Tampa Bay, and he scored in each of the first two periods against the Panthers on Sunday.
In the first period, Bedard picked Kevin Stenlund’s pocket and then quickly roofed a shot with 56 seconds left in the frame to tie the game 2-2.
Bedard glared at Panthers fans at Amerant Bank Arena as he skated around the glass.
The Panthers retook the lead, 3-2, in the second period on Sam Reinhart’s second goal of the game, but a minute and 18 seconds later Bedard did it again.
Verhaeghe couldn’t control a puck that dribbled up the left wall into the neutral zone. Bedard hopped on it and in a flash he snapped it past Sergei Bobrovsky.
Still, Bedard didn’t seem too focused on the hat trick.
“Like I said last game, you’re playing a game, you always want to score, you always go out there, you’re trying to make something happen,” he said. “Obviously, last two games, I had two going into the third but it didn’t happen.
“Of course, you want a hatty and want to be putting the puck in the net. You’re not forcing it or (over)thinking it, I’m just trying to make the right hockey play.”
However, Richardson said, “He just doesn’t seem satisfied just getting his one goal every night, he’s looking for more.”
He noted Bedard is becoming more comfortable with each game.
“He’s just got some special qualities,” Richardson said. “He’s starting to find himself in this league.”
First, he scored three games in a row.
Then, if you give a mulligan for the New Jersey Devils game, Bedard hit a new plateau against the Lightning with his first multi-goal and multi-point game: two goals and two assists, totaling four points.
Sunday’s two-goal performance represented four goals in the last two games.
Foligno said, “You can see the game is starting to slow down for him, which is scary.”
Bedard said, “That’s just something I said to myself, is be more assertive and aggressive in that way.
“Of course, I want the puck and sometimes you’ve got to go get it. Even if I don’t get the puck, then maybe that guy has to make a quicker play and another guy can get the puck.”
That aggressiveness shows up in how he’s scoring these goals, making advanced maneuvers that some veterans wouldn’t risk.
Stripping and hip-checking the 6-foot-5 Stenlund and firing off a shot with no hesitation for his first goal.
Bedard said, “Good forecheck from (Foligno) and (Philipp Kurashev). Got the puck and saw he was kind of crouching down, maybe a poke-check, and just tried to elevate it quick. It was nice it went in.”
“That’s his hockey sense, right?” Foligno said. “A lot of guys, when he takes that first one and he steals it, (they would) go around the net, look for somebody. He just looks quickly at the net and sees he’s got a chance to put it over his shoulder and, boom, it’s in the net.”
On replays of Bedard’s second goal, it looked like the puck slightly hopped up in the air before Bedard snapped it home.
But if it was, Bedard didn’t realize it.
“I think it was on the ice and then when I shot it, it went in the air,” he said.
Before the game, Richardson was asked if Bedard has reached a new plateau.
“I think he’s driven,” he said. “He gets excited (about scoring) at times, but there’s times where it’s a really quick celebration and you can tell he’s already skating and moving on mentally to the next play or the next shift. I like that.
“That’ll drag everybody along with him. Not that other guys aren’t like that as well, but it’s great to have young guys that are already in that mindset.”
Not like it was against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Yes, the Lightning opened the scoring on the power play, but the Hawks had been going toe-to-toe in 5-on-5.
So it came as no surprise when they responded less than a minute and a half later on a goal by Bedard.
It was a seesaw battle until the Hawks wrested the momentum with three straight goals to end the first period.
Versus the Panthers, it was different.
The Cats stunned the Hawks with a goal 39 seconds into the game, and then Florida had the Hawks playing cat-and-mouse with the puck for the rest of the period.
The Hawks bounced back in the second but beyond Bedard’s goal they had little to show for it.
Richardson didn’t like the start to the game, but he liked the push the Hawks made in the second period.
“They were harder and better, and we just let them be,” he said. “It’s not that we weren’t trying. We were sloppy.”
He acknowledged that once you get behind a physical, fast-paced team like the Panthers, “it’s a hard chase.”
“I thought we pushed right to the end and had a chance. … So our fight is there but I think (it’s) just the execution on some plays.
“We’ve got to be a little bit harder to play against,” Richardson said.
A PK that had been stingy at the beginning of the season (three goals allowed in the first 26 opponent opportunities) has given up a goal in five straight games.
The Panthers put up two in four tries.
“It’s just the little disconnects sometimes,” Foligno said. “It’s those moments, especially on the kill, where pucks aren’t getting out, and that kills you.
“When you’re on the other side as a power play, when they can’t get it out and now they’re tired and reeling, they make you pay. They had a couple tonight where they were able to do that to us.”
But it was dizzying how quickly it happened on the Panthers’ first man advantage Sunday.
Matthew Tkachuk threaded a shot through traffic from the high slot and Sam Reinhart redirected it past Arvid Söderblom 17 seconds into the power play.
Then in the third Verhaeghe’s power-play goal off Reinhart’s rebound put the game away.
Richardson said, “We’ve had some tough luck on the PK where the puck bounces, or it’s right at the end or something weird is going on.
“They’re not like big, big breakdowns in the PK. We’ve got to stay with it and hopefully keep penalties to under three,” he said. “On the flip side, our power play has got to do a job”
The Hawks’ power play went 0-for-3.
“When the other team puts pressure on our PK, then we’ve got to respond with better power plays as well,” Richardson said.
In the second period, Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov splattered Bedard against the boards and Foligno flung Kulikov to the ice before others quickly jumped in.
“I just didn’t like the hit, and you can’t let one of your best players get hit like that,” Foligno said.
Kulikov didn’t engage, so Foligno got a roughing call on top of hooking: A four-minute penalty kill.
The Hawks killed it, but Foligno said it was worth it no matter the cost.
“We talk about that: That moment of the game, it was the time,” Foligno said. “There’s always those circumstances. I thought it was the right thing to do and I think any guy would do it.”
“No problem with Nick’s response at all,” Richardson said. “That’s team mentality. And we had a good kill. It was a tough four-minute kill, and I think that drained some guys sometimes, but we know that you put that extra effort in those kills to make sure that those responses are rewarded.”
Chicago reporters know on most practice days they’ll be hanging out in the locker room a good bit longer than usual, waiting for Bedard and a few stragglers to come off the ice.
Apparently, that works the other way around.
Richardson said, “I’m in the gym at 6:30 this morning and then he rolls in not too long after me, and he’s in there stretching in bare feet, preparing his routine before the game.”
But, wait, are these game-day workouts a normal thing for Richardson?
“I try to,” he said. “I might not look it, but I feel more awake.”
After the game, Bedard said, “I went in there to warm up a little bit and he was just drenched on the bike.
“It’s cool to see him working, that’s why he played as long as he did, the dedication he put into his body and the game.”
By the time the Hawks host their second game in a week against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, rematches should be old hat for the Hawks.
Here’s how they’ve fared so far:
Boston Bruins: 3-1 loss, 3-0 loss
Vegas Golden Knights: 5-3 loss, 4-3 win (overtime)
Florida Panthers: 5-2 win, 4-3 loss
Heading into Sunday’s Hawks-Panthers matchup, the Knights and Bruins were 1-2 in the standings, and the Panthers were 10th.
No easy tilts.
Before the game, coaches showed a few clips from the Hawks’ 5-2 home win against the Panthers on Nov. 4.
“But they’re doing the same thing, so we’ve got to make sure that we know and present that to the players that we can’t just do the same things that we did last time,” Richardson said before the game.
And that goes for any rematch, regardless of the opponent.
“Really, it’s more at this point of the season we’re starting to really hammer down some of the system stuff that we want, so really it’s to be prepared mentally to actually physically do it on the ice every time.”
Hall (lower body) missed Sunday’s game, as did Andreas Athanasiou.
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Jarred Tinordi (oblique) was placed on injured reserve, and Isaak Phillips was called up to replace him, though Phillips didn’t play either.
There’s no denying the Hawks look sharper with Hall in the lineup.
“Taylor played excellent last game,” Richardson said. “Really driven and really strong and unfortunately just banged up a bit and hopefully not too long.
“But that’s always a challenge in 82 games: You’re never going to have the same lineup (all) 82 games, so if we can show some growth in our depth as we’re moving forward here, that’s going to be huge for us. We’ve done it before, so we have to really step up.”