You would think that getting one of their star players back on the ice would make the Chicago Blackhawks better, right? Well, all the begging, pleading and bargaining in the world couldn’t help the one thing that the Blackhawks haven’t seemed to fix yet: their lazy approach to the third period, especially when they have a lead.
This time, their opponents were the St. Louis Blues, whom they’d beaten twice already. After Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead in the second period, the dreaded third period curse made its presence felt as Adam Cracknell quickly scored his second goal of the game. You could see the defense lagging, and it was all the Blackhawks could do to muster up another goal, thanks to Viktor Stalberg.
What’s worse is that Brian Elliott, whose numbers are wretched this season, played like a top ten goalie in the game. You’d never guess by the way he was stopping guys like Toews and Patrick Kane that he has a 3.43 goals-against average and a .866 save percentage. He couldn’t stop Toews, Kane or the newly-returned Marian Hossa in the six-round shootout, but he did stop Saad, Andrew Shaw and Michal Handzus.
I can’t tell if this third period laziness is overconfidence or a sudden collective mental block on the Blackhawks’ part, but it needs to stop. If a hockey game was only 40 minutes, they’d be fine. But they act as though they can coast through those last 20 minutes of the game without doing much of anything. It’s been happening all too frequently lately.
The Blackhawks have 11 more games in which to correct this before the playoffs. If they can, they’ll be fine once the postseason hits. If they can’t, they’ll be out of the race in the quarterfinals for the third year in a row. For a team that’s done as well as they have, that would be unacceptable.