Kevin Lankinen’s 41-save shutout completes Blackhawks’ sweep of PanthersBen Popeon March 26, 2021 at 2:40 am

Kevin Lankinen recorded his second career shutout Thursday. | Getty

Lankinen demonstrated the mental resilience he’ll need to be a No. 1 goalie this week, saving 74 of 76 shots against in a two-game sweep of the Panthers.

The Blackhawks have been a second-game team this season.

Entering this week, they were 4-9-3 in the first games of series yet 10-3-2 in second games. They’d thrived on coaching adjustments and a desire for revenge.

So the pressing question entering Thursday was how they’d follow up Tuesday’s series-opening win over the Panthers. Would their hunger be lower than usual?

“Shouldn’t be, [but] I do think it’s probably human nature,” coach Jeremy Colliton admitted after morning skate. “Any of these two-game series, it’s really hard to sweep. A lot of them end up split, and that’s just the nature of sports, I guess. But from our perspective, we need the points.”

Hours later, the Hawks proved their coach happily wrong, finishing the sweep of the Panthers with a 3-0 win.

The Panthers were without leading scorer Aleksander Barkov for the second straight game and lost third-leading scorer Patrick Hornqvist in the third period but still produced plenty of scoring chances, dominating the Hawks 38-21 in that category. Only a second consecutive fantastic start by goalie Kevin Lankinen preserved the win.

Lankinen was stellar from start to finish in a 41-save shutout, the second of his career. 41 saves are the most in a shutout by any goalie in the NHL this season and tied for third-most by any Hawks goalie since 1979.

After the first downturn of his career — against very tough competition — earlier this month, Lankinen’s mental resilience shone brightly this week, demonstrating he possesses the ability that any No. 1 goalie needs to overcome and even improve through struggles.

Patrick Kane, meanwhile, provided all the offense the Hawks needed. Kane flipped in a loose puck to put the Hawks up 1-0 early in the second period, then set up Alex DeBrincat and Pius Suter on a two-on-one rush that doubled the lead. Brandon Hagel added an empty-netter.

Dach returning soon?

Kirby Dach seems to be getting closer and closer to returning to game action — remarkably ahead of schedule, which initially made mid-April seem optimistic. Dach took part in morning skate Thursday.

Colliton has repeatedly avoided giving a timetable for Dach’s return, but gave an encouraging hint when asked after Wednesday’s practice if he had a date set yet.

“No, unfortunately,” Colliton said with a wry grin. “But he does look good, doesn’t he?”

It wouldn’t be shocking to see him play sometime during the remaining four games of the Hawks’ homestand.

Hagel getting PP time

Hagel had only received about two minutes of power-play ice time this whole season prior to this past weekend. But he has become a regular on the top power-play unit in the past three games.

“Personally, I’m trying to help these guys get into the zone with my speed,” he said. “and get pucks [back] for the guys.”

The Hawks’ power-play meetings this season have been held on Zoom due to NHL mandates, allowing all players — even those not on either unit at the time — to watch them.

That, combined with his lengthy experience in power-play situations in the AHL and junior hockey, has made Hagel’s adjustment seamless. He recorded his first career NHL power-play point Thursday.

“A lot of players here have grown up being on the power play their whole life until they got to this level,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that is in our heads and we kind of know it.”

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