Blackhawks use ‘underdog mentality’ to beat Panthers, win fourth straight

The Blackhawks have vastly exceeded expectations through their first six games of the season, but their attendance has not.

Patrick Kane scored his first goal of the season, goalie Alex Stalock continued his resurgence and the Hawks’ red-hot penalty kill produced one of its best performances in years in a 4-2 victory Tuesday against the Panthers. It was the Hawks’ fourth consecutive triumph.

But only 12,859 fans were in attendance at the United Center to see it, marking the Hawks’ smallest crowd since Dec. 12, 2007.

”[We’re] having that underdog mentality,” Kane said. ”There’s really nothing to lose in here. Hopefully we start filling up the building again, getting people excited about this team and where we could go.

”It’s a little bit different when you look up and you don’t see the building full. I kind of saw it in 2007-08, when it was like that for the first little bit. Then you start winning, there’s excitement and the building fills up pretty quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened [again].”

After rallying from 2-0 deficits three games in a row, the Hawks found themselves on the opposite side against the Panthers, trying to protect a 3-0 lead in the third period.

The Panthers pushed hard, beating Stalock (29 saves) twice and generating a wave of nerve-wracking moments in the final minutes, but the Hawks held on.

”They’re just executing, and they’re executing better than everyone else right now,” coach Luke Richardson said.

Conference imbalance

The Hawks’ victory bucked a trend of the Eastern Conference dominating the Western Conference early this season. Entering the day, East teams had won 30 of 42 cross-conference matchups.

The Panthers are one team that could be negatively affected by the disparity, with the Atlantic Division looking particularly strong.

The Lightning, Maple Leafs and Bruins are annual powers — those teams and the Panthers were the Atlantic’s four playoff qualifiers in 2021-22 — but the Senators, Sabres and Red Wings might be the three most improved teams in the league.

Injury updates

Forward Tyler Johnson left with an apparent leg or ankle injury in the third period. Richardson said that he was ”not good” after the game but that the Hawks would know more Wednesday.

Fortunately, forward Boris Katchouk appears likely to return ahead of schedule from his sprained left ankle and could take Johnson’s spot.

Katchouk was ruled out for four to six weeks Oct. 2, but he practiced Monday — just more than three weeks into his absence — in a full-contact jersey. Richardson said he’s ”getting very close” and needs only a couple of more practices to get up to speed.

The Hawks also have Reese Johnson available. He has been a healthy scratch in five of the first six games.

PK rolls on

The Hawks couldn’t have put themselves in a tougher situation during the second period. They also couldn’t have handled it better.

Four consecutive penalties — including a double-minor — in a span of less than eight minutes gave the Panthers’ power play nearly a half-period, including 1:35 of five-on-three time, to make something happen. Yet the Hawks’ penalty kill allowed no goals and only two shots on goal during the sequence, earning a standing ovation.

They completed a 6-for-6 night with another crucial kill in the third period.

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