Blackhawks’ resilient effort falls short in loss to Penguins

Back on Oct. 25, after a rousing win over the Panthers, Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson hoped his team would be able to conjure up the same good feelings once adversity inevitably hit.

“When we hit a lower valley, we want to make sure we [think] back to situations like tonight,” he said then. “So we can turn it around and get it back on the upswing as quick as possible.”

That message was certainly applicable Sunday, with the Hawks having tumbled into a rather deep valley. Their blowout loss Saturday against the Bruins was a humiliating demonstration of the talent gap between them and the NHL’s top team. Richardson asked his group before the game to reflect on the “ugliness” they felt and channel it into “determination.”

So it was surely frustrating to see a legitimately strong effort — a night-and-day difference from Boston — not translate into a skid-snapping result. The Penguins prevailed 5-3 in a back-and-forth game, dealing the Hawks their fourth straight loss.

“There’s positives, for sure, compared to last night,” Richardson said. “Last night was one of the first nights we didn’t seem to have the energy to put up that fight all game… I was hoping that our guys would react how they did. We put a nice push on.”

The Hawks outshot the Penguins 32-25, marking just the second time this season (and the first time since the home opener) that they’ve outshot an opponent. They enjoyed plenty of long shifts in the offensive zone and could’ve worked Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith even harder if not for 23 attempts that missed the net.

And they demonstrated a sizable dose of the resilience that seemed like a team calling card in October but that had slipped away in November. After falling behind 3-0 despite playing well, they stuck with the game plan and were eventually rewarded.

Patrick Kane snapped a 10-game goal drought off a clever feed from Jonathan Toews — the two old-timers teaming up was fitting on Marian Hossa’s night — to cut the deficit to 3-2 late in the second period. Then with 4:11 left in regulation, Philipp Kurashev innocently threw a puck toward the net that banked in off DeSmith to tie the game.

But Sidney Crosby exploited Caleb Jones — who struggled yet again in his return to the lineup — less than a minute later, scoring his first-ever goal in Chicago to give Pittsburgh the lead back for good.

“We gave ourselves a chance to get back into it,” Kane said. “We played well. It’s just tough to give up a goal right after [scoring]. A good player makes a good play on their team, and all of a sudden, you’re down again and you’re fighting for it with a few minutes left. It’s a tough situation.

“We got away [last night] from the work ethic and battling throughout the whole game no matter what happens. And we found that again tonight, so that’s a positive.”

Richardson shuffled the Hawks’ bottom-six forward corps for the first time in a while, putting Jujhar Khaira and Colin Blackwell with Jason Dickinson on the third line and MacKenzie Entwistle and Sam Lafferty with Reese Johnson on the fourth line.

That switch-up worked, too. Both new trios controlled puck possession during most of their shifts.

But the Hawks were left unrewarded for their improvement and now skate on even thinner ice moving forward. Their ability to absorb the sting of losses and maintain togetherness and confidence in the locker room will be tested more and more the longer this skid lasts.

“We have to make sure that we’re conscious that we keep playing like we did tonight…but really bear down,” Richardson said.

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