PITTSBURGH — Things went from bad to potentially disastrous for the Blackhawks.
Already without the services of Patrick Kane for the remainder of the regular season due to a knee injury, the Hawks lost captain Jonathan Toews to an apparent left arm injury during the second period of their 4-1 loss to the Penguins on Sunday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
As far as the game itself, the Hawks’ woes continued as James Neal and Lee Stempniak scored 21 seconds apart midway through the first period, Sidney Crosby added two goals late and netminder Marc-Andre Fleury made them hold up, allowing only a Sheldon Brookbank score. Corey Crawford suffered the loss in goal for the Hawks.
The Hawks lost all three games of their road trip and remained in third place in the Central Division behind the idle Avalanche. Colorado leads by one point but with two games in hand has the edge in the race for home-ice advantage in a likely first-round postseason matchup.
In Sunday’s fast-paced game, the Penguins out-skated the Hawks early on and cashed in when Neal broke in two-on-one with Beau Bennett and ripped a shot past Crawford to the glove side.
The fans were still buzzing when Stempniak got behind the Hawks defense and fired a shot between Crawford’s pads from the right circle.
In the second, the Hawks regrouped and Brookbank halved the deficit when his blast from the point sailed past Fleury, who was screened while the Hawks’ Andrew Shaw battled Orpik in front.
Late in the third, the Pens had another odd-man rush and Crosby rifled a shot over Crawford’s glove and later added an empty-net goal.
The concern after the game was for Toews, who is arguably the player the Hawks can least afford to lose considering the impact the center has at both ends of the ice, on special teams and in the dressing room.
Coupled with the absence of Kane, who missed his sixth consecutive game after being injured when the Blues’ Brenden Morrow accidentally rolled into his left leg March 19, losing Toews for any length of time could prove to be huge hindrance in the Hawks’ bid for a second consecutive Stanley Cup.
Bryan Bickell traveled with the Hawks during the three-game road trip but did not see any action as he recovers from an upper-body injury. Bickell has been skating with teammates but is now targeting a return against the Wild on Thursday.
“If (Sunday) was a playoff game, I don’t think I would have missed (it),” Bickell said. “It’s one of those things you don’t want it to get worse. It’s a crucial time coming up. We just need to keep on winning but hopefully Thursday will be a go.”
Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad played his first regular-season game in his hometown. The Hawks winger had around 40 family and friends attend Sunday’s game.