Blackhawks collapse in 3rd period, lose to desperate Golden Knights

LAS VEGAS — For two periods Saturday, the Blackhawks impressively matched the Golden Knights’ desperation and countered it with clean, crisp execution.

But in the third period, the Hawks’ lingering fragility reappeared.

Four Knights goals in a nine-minute span transformed what was once a 3-0 Hawks lead into a 4-4 tie before Evgenii Dadonov — whom the Knights tried to trade less than a week ago, only to have the move nixed by the NHL over a no-trade clause controversy — fittingly scored in overtime to lift the Knights to a 5-4 win.

“Anytime you give up a three-goal lead in the third period, it’s obviously not good,” Dylan Strome said. “They just rolled the momentum there, and we couldn’t stop it.

“[We needed to] try to relax. [After] they scored that quick into the third, it’s just like, ‘Take a deep breath.’ The building is going crazy — this has to be the loudest rink in the NHL — so they get one, they get two, and then it’s a tough thing to stop.”

Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson and Jack Eichel all scored within a span of 1:52 to bring the hosts level, then Alex Pietrangelo did so again 47 seconds after Alex DeBrincat’s go-ahead goal to keep the crowd of 18,301 at T-Mobile Arena rocking.

The dramatic two points technically lifted the Knights ahead of the Stars for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, although they still trail based on points percentage. Those two teams along with the Kings, Oilers and Predators above them and Jets and Canucks below them appear destined for a frantic final month racing to the finish line.

The Hawks, of course, will be nowhere near that excitement as they plod through their final weeks with all eyes on the future.

That makes it difficult to contextualize the inevitable short-term positives and negatives, since neither matter in the long run. And that’s a shame, because there have still been plenty of said positives lately.

They went 2-0-1 on this West Coast road trip, earning five out of a possible six points while admirably avoiding a post-trade deadline emotional deflation.

Kevin Lankinen’s goaltending has looked 2021-level sharp lately, at least until Saturday’s third period. Dominik Kubalik put forth a tremendous effort, scoring in his return from a healthy scratch.

Seth Jones is riding a five-game point streak, and Jake McCabe quietly boasts seven points in his last nine games. Strome, DeBrincat and Patrick Kane’s line has been red-hot for so long it seems permanent.

And the Hawks collectively played one of their best second periods in months Saturday, maintaining excellent structure in the neutral zone — constantly intercepting Knights’ breakouts while cleanly slicing across the blue lines with their own — and demonstrating sharp vision and accurate passing in the offensive zone.

“We were skating; we were getting pucks behind them; we were good on the forecheck; we were patient; the ‘D’ were active,” interim coach Derek King said. “We just played a solid two periods.”

Then all that disappeared abruptly.

“Usually the second period is our worst,” King added. “Now I’ve got to work on the third period, because…all the things we did in the second and the first, we stopped doing in the third. And it’s just like, ‘OK, Strome, get going, get your line out there,’ because they were creating opportunities. [But] you can’t play that line for a whole period. You need other guys to fill in.”

There’s no arguing general manager Kyle Davidson’s aggressive rebuild isn’t the wisest plan. After a relatively feel-good week, the final portion of Saturday afternoon provided another vivid reminder of that.

The Hawks are now 24-32-10 — an awful record from any perspective. And they’ve now proved yet again they don’t have the talent, depth, confidence or composure to keep up, when it really matters, with a playoff-caliber opponent.

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