The Boston Bruins are on the outside looking in pertaining to the Eastern Conference play chase. The last thing today's visitors needed was a flat showing against the Chicago Blackhawks as they attempted to salvage a recent collapse in a must-win situation.
However, head coach Claude Julien was unable to light a fire under the skates of his defense and goaltender Tuuka Rask in particular, as the Bruins fell victim to a 6-0 deficit in the second period. They did fight back though in a dominant third period and change but it was not enough to thwart the Blackhawks on their home ice.
Kane, Panarin Dominate B's
Chicago right winger Patrick Kane reached 100 points as he notched his second career hat trick while also recording an assist. Linemate Artemi Panarin garnered the ninth three-plus point game of his rookie season (second best mark in NHL history for rookies) with a goal and three assists as the tandem led all performers with a +3 plus-minus rating.
Center Artem Ansimov added a goal and two assists, defenseman Brent Seabrook contributed two assists, and center Jonathan Toews recorded a goal for the Blackhawks as they virtually clinched their standing in third place in the Central Division heading into the postseason.
Starting Chicago goalie Scott Darling staved off 42 of the 46 shots that the Bruins sent his way for a 91.3% save percentage, however, Rask did not enjoy the same success on the other end.
The netminder, 30-22 on the season, saved just 18 of the 22 shots he faced in 22 minutes before being pulled for backup Jonas Gustavsson two minutes into the second period.
The most prolific attacking line in the NHL, consisting of center Patrice Bergeron and wingers Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson, accounted for three goals on the afternoon for Boston, however, the Bruins were unable to recover from the six-goal hole that the dug for themselves in the second period.
Bergeron scored twice, upping his goal tally on the season to a career-high 32, while assisting once in addition to Marchand's goal and an assist and defenseman Torey Krug's two assists for the Bruins, who now sit both a point behind the Detroit Red Wings for third place in the Atlantic Division and one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the final Wild Card slot in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers take on the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday evening for a chance to increase their hold over the Wild Card spot.
Despite entering Sunday's contest with the opportunity to hop both the Red Wings and the Flyers, Boston came out with a lackadaisical approach in the absence of defenseman Kevan Miller to a lower body injury, being outshot 19-8 by the Blackhawks in the first period.
Rask was able to hold court for the first half of the opening period. However, the Blackhawks broke through on a power play 13:14 into the stanza, as a whiffed shot by Panarin landing right into the grasp of an open Ansimov in front of the net, with the Russian native depositing a shot behind Rask for his 19th goal of the season.
Then, 18:31 into the period, Kane picked off a lazy pass by Bruins defenseman Joe Morrow and beat the Boston goalie on a breakaway to increase the Chicago advantage to 2-0 entering the first intermission.
The Blackhawks continued their momentum into the second period, as Ansimov flipped a backhanded pass to Kane from behind the net 54 seconds into the stanza which No. 88 effortlessly placed over a diving Rask for his 42nd goal of the season.
Just 1:06 later, right winger Marian Hossa sent a beautiful assist over a diving Adam McQuaid directly to Toews on a two-on-one fast break, signaling the end of Rask's afternoon with the Bruins trailing by four goals.
The situation only deteriorated once Gustavsson entered the game. Kane found a streaking Panarin on a two-on-one breakaway, 5:17 into the period, for his 57th assist of the season on a one-timer by the rookie.
Then, 14:16 into the second, Panarin received a beautiful pass off of the boards from Seabrook near the middle of the ice on the power play and found Kane rushing down the left side of a helpless Gustavsson. Kane then rocketed a one-timer into the net for his 100th point of the season, pushing his team's advantage to 6-0.
Bruins Comeback Falls Short
The Bruins were not finished, however. With 16 seconds remaining in the second period, left winger David Pastrnak emerged on a breakaway and beat Darling for his 13th goal of the season.
Then, just 12 seconds later, McQuaid rocketed a shot off of the skate of Bergeron and past Darling to slice the deficit to 6-2 heading into the third period.
Boston entered the final frame with something to prove, outshooting the Blackhawks 17-3 in the last 20 minutes of the game.
Bergeron cut the Chicago lead in half just 2:39 into the period after finishing a picturesque dime from Eriksson in front of the net to evade Darling, and Marchand kept the Bruins alive with 10:09 remaining in the contest after a rip by Krug ricocheted off of his skate and into the mesh of the goal for his 36th goal of the season.
However, the Blackhawks were able to hold on by the skin of their teeth, pushing the Bruins into the final two games of their season needing a pair of wins and some assistance in order to qualify for the postseason.