As well as 2013 went for them, the new year has not been as kind to the Blackhawks.
Thus far in ’14, the Hawks haven’t much resembled the team that didn’t suffer a regulation loss the first 24 games of last season and then hoisted the Stanley Cup in June as they fell for the third time in the first four games this year.
This time, it was a difficult 3-2 loss to the Rangers in an Original Six showdown Wednesday night at the United Center that came after the Hawks rallied from an early two-goal deficit to tie it
That effort was spoiled when Carl Hagelin scored with just less than six minutes remaining to hand Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who was shaky early and stellar for much of the rest of the way, the loss and snap the Hawks’ season-high, 10-game points streak.
“The biggest thing is just coming out to play a little better overall,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We’re getting out-worked in a few of these games. Especially in the first (Wednesday), we were sloppy. We got better as the game went along but unfortunately they were able to get one late and win it.”
Brad Richards had a goal and an assist for the Rangers, Mats Zuccarello also scored and Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves to prevail in a goaltending duel with Crawford (29 saves). Jonathan Toews and Brandon Bollig scored for the Hawks but the offense couldn’t find its top gear and the defending champs dropped to 29-8-9.
“The second period we came out and played the way we wanted,” Hawks winger Kris Versteeg said. “The last couple of games maybe we haven’t been there for the full 60 (minutes). It’s a long season so we just have to learn from these.”
In the first, Crawford allowed goals that weren’t exactly highlight-reel material, including when he was late to the post to halt Zuccarello’s wraparound that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead.
The second period was a different story as Toews jump-started the Hawks — and the crowd of 21,493 — with a power-play goal. Patrick Sharp launched a shot from the point that didn’t get through but landed at the skates of Toews, and the captain didn’t miss from the slot.
The Hawks kept coming and tied it on a goal from an unexpected source when Bollig carried the puck into the offensive zone, took advantage of too much of a gap by Rangers blue-liner Dan Girardi and flicked a wrister past Lundqvist to snap a 17-game goalless string.
Hagelin picked up the winner when he shoveled in a rebound of a Marc Staal shot off his backhand.
“We knew it was going to take our best effort coming in here, in a tough place to play, against this team,” Rangers forward Ryan Callahan said. “If you give them any time or space, they’re going to take advantage. That was the key for us, not letting them have that.”