Frustration mounts as ‘Hawks suffer ‘two tough losses in a row’

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CHICAGO — Yes, the Blackhawks have been here before.

But no, it isn’t making things any easier.

Numerologists would likely be intrigued by the fact that, in their third Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2010, the Blackhawks have now lost Game 3 all three times: in 2010, they fell at home to Philly; in 2013, they lost at TD Garden in Boston and this year, they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Bolts at the United Center.

But this time, there’s a bit of a different feeling at play.

“Two games we had the lead, but short-lived both times,” ‘Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville said following Monday’s defeat. “Two tough losses in a row.”

Blown leads have become a staple of this series. The Lightning have frittered away first-period leads (they’ve had one in all three games), while Chicago blows leads quickly. In Game 2, the ‘Hawks had a 2-1 lead that lasted all of 1:32 and tonight, their advantage held up for exactly 13 seconds before Ondrej Palat canceled Brandon Saad’s third-period tally.

Palat’s gut-punch was the first of two absorbed by Chicago in the final frame. The second came courtesy Cedric Paquette’s late marker with just over three minutes remaining.

“It’s frustrating,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews explained. “A lot of things we did today gave us the feeling we were going to come out on top with the effort we gave. It was just a couple of little bad habits that ended up hurting us.

“We are responsible for that, but I think this game could have been similar to the way we stole Game 1 from them. I feel like we had a lot of chances, especially early in the game. Late in the game, we gave up those odd-man rushes. We’ve been talking about that and they ended up in the back of the net.”

For Toews, his frustration likely extends beyond the result. He’s now gone three straight game without scoring a goal — this after scoring five over the last four games of the Western Conference Final — and has just one point to show through 180 minutes against the Bolts.

For Corey Crawford, the frustration stems from the same thing Quenneville lamented — dropping consecutive games the ‘Hawks felt they could’ve won.

“Tough loss,” he said. “I thought we played well. Frustrating, for sure.”

‘It took him a few years, but Victor Hedman’s arrived’

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CHICAGO — Those who’ve been watching closely know Victor Hedman’s been among the NHL’s elite defensemen for a little while now.

Those who haven’t been watching closely, well, those people sure know now.

Hedman was brilliant in Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks, on center stage in the Stanley Cup Final.

The 24-year-old’s excellence included a mighty assist on the game’s winning goal, when, with just over three minutes remaining in regulation, he picked up the puck at his own blue line, rushed his giant frame through the neutral zone, went wide on Brent Seabrook and used his reach to sling a perfect pass to Cedric Paquette, who directed it into the Chicago net.

“I said to him after the game, ‘How do you find those plays, man?'” said his defensive partner, Anton Stralman. “He’s very optimistic in that way. Likes to join the rush, usually makes really good reads, when to go, when not to go.”

Hedman was drafted second overall in 2009, right after John Tavares. He jumped into the NHL right away, but not with the spectacular results that some rookies have enjoyed.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is the only player on the current roster that was on that 2009-10 team with Hedman.

“It’s tough to come into the league as an 18-year-old defenseman. I think that’s the toughest position to be put in,” said Stamkos. “Especially in the position that we were in. We weren’t a great team. He was getting some minutes against some quality competition, and our team was struggling. He was kind of thrown into the fire. He’s matured as a player, matured as a person. You see the confidence that he has now. He steps up in all big moments.”

“Hedman, what he’s doing, I mean, this is clearly his coming-out party,” added Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper.

On top of the pass that Hedman made on the winning goal, he also set up Ryan Callahan’s first-period rocket past Corey Crawford, on one of the longest bombs you’ll ever see in a hockey game.

“We were pressured in the zone a little bit and trying to calm the play down a little bit,” Hedman explained. “I wasn’t going to give it to him. I saw their d-man fell. Tried to put it there. He made a good catch on his backhand. It was a hell of a shot. That was obviously a big goal. We probably got a little lucky that their d-man went down.”

Perhaps, but there was no luck in the second period when Hedman made arguably an even better pass, sending the puck high off the glass to give Nikita Kucherov a breakaway.

“Words can’t describe the force that he’s been out there for our team,” said Stamkos. “We’ve known how good he is all along.”

“Just the plays he makes, it’s fun to watch,” said Cooper. “He’s really grown into that role. It took him a few years, but Victor Hedman’s arrived.”

Related: Hanifin feels he has NHL ‘mindset,’ but won’t be ‘mad’ if he goes back to college

Video: Crawford stifles Kucherov, Bishop’s healthy enough to stop Vermette

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Say what you will about Ben Bishop (possibly) playing hurt in Game 3. If you look at the box score alone, you’d think that he’s having a great night.

The Chicago Blackhawks managed a playoff-high 19 shots on goal in the first period, yet only Brad Richards’ power-play goal beat Bishop. The big goalie’s lateral movement looks limited, to say the least, yet he was spry enough to stop Antoine Vermette here:

Did Vermette fail in forcing Bishop to make a tougher save? Maybe, but so far Lightning head coach Jon Cooper looks more reasonable than many expected in leaving Bishop in.

Then again, maybe it’s one of those games? Nikita Kucherov got an even better chance against Corey Crawford – who’s had some adventurous moments in Game 3 himself – but Crawford was game to the challenge.

Video: Bishop, Crawford both let up shaky goals

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Update: The first period is almost over, and at the moment, each goalie allowed a goal they likely regret in Game 3.

First things first, Victor Hedman sent a home-run pass up the ice for Ryan Callahan, who zoomed a puck by Corey Crawford:

Was that as much about the Tampa Bay Lightning’s combined efforts or the Chicago Blackhawks’ goalie falling short of the mark? (Hold that thought.)

Tampa Bay has scored the first goal in three straight games in this series. Hedman also set a scoring record for Lightning defensemen:

Once again, the Lightning’s 1-0 lead didn’t hold, as the Blackhawks sent chance after chance against Ben Bishop before finally tying it up with this Brad Richards power-play tally:

It was Bishop’s glove that failed him on that one, but the questions revolve around his health more than his glove. He’s made plenty of saves, yet many wonder if the Lightning will stick with him.

If nothing else, there’s plenty of drama in Game 3.

Crawford says performance ‘not good enough,’ Coach Q says ‘just OK’

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TAMPA — Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final wasn’t a banner night for starting goalies.

Ben Bishop surrendered three goals before exiting the game, twice, under mysterious circumstances. The second time, he left for good.

As for Corey Crawford? Four goals allowed on 24 shots, one ugly one to Tyler Johnson, and some less-than-stellar performance reviews.

The first, from his head coach!

Q. What is your assessment of Crawford in this one tonight?

COACH QUENNEVILLE: Just okay.

Crawford’s self-assessment was equally blunt.

“It’s frustrating,” he explained. “I felt good but it’s not good enough”

“I can’t let that happen again.”

The final two goals — surrendered to Jason Garrison and Tyler Johnson — annoyed Crawford, but the latter irked him the most, a bank shot scored from a bad angle.

“I don’t want to give that up,” Crawford said. “I don’t think he was trying to do that. He kind of fanned on his backhand, hit the side of the net, I don’t know if it bounced up, I kind of lost it from there, but I felt something on my back.

“You can’t give those up in these games. That’s two goals I pretty much just gave them and gave them momentum back.”

Of course, rough playoff reviews aren’t anything new for Crawford. He’s faced plenty of criticism over the last few years about his play — in 2013, much was written about Boston exposing his glove hand; last year, he finished the Western Conference Final against the Kings with an .878 save percentage; in this year’s opening round, he was parked in favor of Scott Darling after two shaky outings against Nashville.

Yet Crawford is the same guy that’s won over 40 postseason games in five years, with a .920 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. He’s also the same guy that helped Chicago win a Cup two seasons ago.

That’s probably why, regardless of games like tonight, the Blackhawks have consistently had his back.

“I don’t really follow media the way you guys do so I don’t know what’s said or not outside,” ‘Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said. “In the locker room, we know what kind of player he is. He’s always been tremendous here. He’s a hard competitor. He loves the game.

“Every time it’s on the line, we know we can trust him.”