It's Not How You Start, It's How You Finish: Blackhawks 3, Panthers 2 - March 23, 2021

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It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish: Blackhawks 3, Panthers 2 – March 23, 2021

Chicago Blackhawks

In a much more apropos way of celebrating Patrick Kane’s 1,000th NHL game, the Chicago Blackhawks topped the Florida Panthers at the United Center 3-2, snapping a five-game losing streak. With the win, Chicago re-extended their hold on the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division with a two-point cushion over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blackhawks now have 35 points on the year with a 15-13-5 record and get their first win this season over the Panthers.

Before the game, the Blackhawks had a mini-celebration for Kane’s 1,000th game (which occurred on March 9th in Dallas). Kane still wants to celebrate properly in front of a full United Center, so expect a much grander celebration at some point next season (we hope). Still great to see the Kane family in the house and a Patrick Kane III sighting.

The Blackhawks were embarrassed against the Stars back on March 9th, spoiling the party for Kane. Tonight, they controlled most of the sixty-minute affair despite the final score. Chicago used two goals in the first period to open their 10th multi-goal lead since February 1st. Dominik Kubalík got on the board first with his 11th goal of the season, extending his point-streak to six games, and Pius Suter tallied his ninth goal of the season, ending a six-game streak without a point.

Chicago built-up their lead in the second period as Carl Söderberg scored on the power play to make it a 3-0 game. Patrick Kane notched assists on the 2-0 and 3-0 goals and with those two points, he passed Keith Thachuk for fourth on the all-time points list for US-Born players with 1,066 career points.

But the night wouldn’t be without worry and maybe some sweaty palms. The Panthers scored goals in the second and third period to cut the Blackhawks’ lead to 3-2 late into the third period.

Remember that multi-goal lead stat from earlier? Well, Chicago had blown seven of the previous nine multi-goal leads since February 1st. But with a late power play opportunity, Chicago was able to run off most of the remaining clock in the game and hold on to the 3-2 win.

Kevin Lankinen played a fantastic game, something he desperately needed this month. Coming into the game with a 1-4-1 record over his last six games in March, Lankinen stopped 33 of the Panthers 35 shots and earned his 11th win of the season. Lankinen made all the stops you’d hope to see from the starting goalie and them some when called on to come up big.

This was a gutty win for the Blackhawks after looking like it was going to be an easier walk through a tough Panthers squad. But that’s just what the Blackhawks need to learn; there are no walkthrough teams in the NHL when the season starts to get to crunch time. We’re in crunch time now and if The Blackhawks are going to convince us that they are a playoff team, they are going to need to put in more efforts like tonight. Hard, gritty, earned wins.

Tonight they earned it.

Final Thoughts

•   After a weird series against the Tampa Bay Lightning where the Blackhawks looked like they actively were not trying to engage physically, Chicago showed push back tonight against the Panthers. Like I said before, this is the playoff push, this is crunch time, and games are not going to be easy. If Chicago wants to be a playoff team, they need to keep this intensity and not allow themselves to be bullied by anyone.

•   MacKenzie Entwistle made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks tonight, the seventh player to make his debut with the team this season. He had a team-low 6:03 minutes of ice-time, but he made it count with three hits and two shots on goal. It wasn’t much of a showcase, but Entwistle showed some jam in his game and a willingness to get into the corners and tough areas against the Panthers.

•   Chicago has scored the first goal of the game in seven games in the month of March, including tonight. They had won just one of the previous six games in which they scored the opening goal. They get the win tonight and snap a three-game losing streak when scoring the first goal. It’s baby steps, still with this young team, but they are turning a corner and learning from their hard lessons of the last six-game road trip.

Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.