Blackhawks’ hard work not enough to avoid another loss to Avalanche

Blackhawks’ hard work not enough to avoid another loss to Avalanche

Pavel Francouz’s 23-save shutout carried the Avalanche over the Blackhawks 2-0 on Monday. | AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The Hawks again kept up with arguably the NHL’s best team Monday, but still suffered a 2-0 defeat that stretched their losing streak to four straight games.

DENVER — Twice this January, the Blackhawks have kept up with the Avalanche. Twice, they’ve still left defeated.

First was the 4-3 overtime loss at home on Jan. 4, when Cale Makar’s stunning game-winner overshadowed an impressive comeback by the Hawks.

Then came Monday’s 2-0 loss in Colorado, where the Hawks worked hard and got their sticks on pucks all night but ultimately couldn’t solve Avs goalie Pavel Francouz.

“We all thought it could have been a similar situation [to Jan. 4] tonight,” Patrick Kane said. “We grinded pretty hard for two-and-a-half periods. Just maybe we didn’t have a big enough push there in the third [period] to equalize the game.”

Still, Kane can’t help but look at the Avalanche — a team loaded with talent, assured in their identity and enjoying life on top of the NHL mountain, having won 16 straight at home and 25 of their last 30 overall — and feel simultaneous twinges of nostalgia and jealousy.

“Yeah, it looks like a fun way to play, huh?” he said, smiling. “Maybe back in the day, you took that for granted a little bit.”

The Hawks have now lost four straight — and eight of 12 since the holiday break — despite playing fairly well their last two outings. After Saturday’s overtime loss to the Wild, they entered the third period Monday only trailing 1-0 and almost tied it when Philipp Kurashev barely missed an open net from a tight angle.

Up against the top teams in the Western Conference, though, they’re learning that playing fairly well often isn’t enough.

“[We made] just couple mistakes, and when you’re playing against a great team, two mistakes will cost you,” interim coach Derek King said. “There were times we competed the right way, and other times we dropped our compete level a little lower than it should be and they capitalized. That’s why they’re one of the best teams in the league.”

One bright spot during the past two games has been the emerging chemistry of an unusual trio: Jonathan Toews centering Alex DeBrincat and Sam Lafferty. They were clearly the Blackhawks’ most active and dangerous forward line Monday, with Lafferty’s speed helping “push the pace,” King said, for an increasingly settled-down Toews and always-dangerous DeBrincat.

Even that line eventually made a significant mistake, though, letting Mikko Rantanen slip behind all of them and out-wait Marc-Andre Fleury to score the backbreaking goal with 13:19 left.

The final stats were closer than one might expect for this on-paper lopsided matchup, with the Avalanche finishing with advantages of only 62-55 in shot attempts, 29-23 in shots on goal and 34-26 in scoring chances. Then again, the Avalanche did still have more of all three.

“We had some chances early on — some good looks,” Kane said. “[It] would have been nice to take a lead, play with a lead against a team like that. Their goalie played well. I still think we probably could have created a little bit more.”

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