The Hawks’ 4-2 loss dropped them to 1-5-0 in their last six games, even though Strome scored a goal and played well in his first game in a month.
When Dylan Strome began feeling headaches in February, he initially dismissed them as just that and played through them.
But when they kept coming and felt worse and worse, he finally suspected a concussion.
“I wasn’t feeling exactly like myself,” Strome said. “I figured it was probably the right thing to sit out. The headaches didn’t go away for a while, so I’m happy I made the decision to stop playing for a little bit.”
That “little bit” ultimately turned into nearly a month away from the team.
But 10 days after he resumed practicing, Strome returned to the lineup Thursday and was one of the Blackhawks’ best players in a 4-2 loss to the Lightning.
“He was really good,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “[He] made a lot of plays, won some races, was strong on the puck. [I was] very pleased with how he played.”
“It was nice to get back out there with the guys,” Strome said. “I’m feeling a lot better. I did a lot of skating while I was out…so [my] legs felt good tonight. But [it was] unfortunate we couldn’t get the win.”
The defeat marks the Hawks’ fifth in their last six games, a discouraging if fairly predictable downturn in the hardest portion of their schedule.
Colliton said he thought the Hawks “played really well” in a low-event contest — shots on goal were only 23-21, Lightning — but two soft goals allowed by Kevin Lankinen and a strange hesitancy to shoot the puck late cost them. Lightning rookie Ross Colton’s breakaway goal with 14:28 left proved to be the game-winner.
“[Lankinen] would probably like to have a couple back there,” Colliton said. “But it’s his first year. It’s going to happen sometimes. Overall, our performance is something we can build on.”
The loss was of no fault to Strome, who scored a goal in the first period, looked uncharacteristically fast in transition and generated numerous threatening shifts on the wing of a newly formed line with Ryan Carpenter and Mattias Janmark.
Strome has struggled in the past when Colliton shifts him to wing, but said he felt “pretty comfortable” there Thursday, mainly due to his chemistry with Carpenter.
“[There’s] lot less thinking when you’re on the wing, I find,” he said. “I just went out there and, when I got the puck, tried to make something happen. I was playing with a couple of great players.”
He tied the game 2-2 late in the first period when after receiving a centering feed from Janmark and jamming it past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy on his third attempt.
He nearly added another goal in the second period when he chased down an errant pass and was robbed one-on-one against Vasilevskiy, who is now 5-0-0 with a .930 save percentage against the Hawks this year.
With Strome on the ice, the Hawks dominated in the Lightning in shot attempts (13-6), shots on goal (9-2) and scoring chances (8-4). Strome produced four of those shots on goal himself during 17:17 of ice time.
His much-improved play after an extended time off — he had been awful in the weeks leading up to his injured reserve designation — matches up with the surges guys like Carpenter, Alex DeBrincat and Adam Boqvist experienced after missing time on the COVID-19 list.
He’s hopeful he’ll experience a similar phenomenon. At the least, he’s thankful to have moved past the concussion.
“It’s never fun,” he said. “There’s so many different reasons for headaches. It’s not like a specific thing where you can say, ’Oh, it’s a headache or concussion.’ It’s a weird injury for sure. Sometimes it’s from your neck or your posture, whatever it may be. Just tried to fix whatever I could at the time and throughout the past month to try to come back and play.”