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Nov 15, 2023 3:21 pm

Connor Bedard, Blackhawks to test struggling Lightning

The Chicago Blackhawks are back from a trip to Florida, refreshed after three days off and ready to play five home games over the next seven outings.

They also return with Connor Bedard appearing to have taken great strides in his development as an NHL superstar-in-the-making, as the 18-year-old seems to get more comfortable by the game.

For the third time in a week, Chicago will face a team from the Sunshine State as it hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night to conclude their season series.

The first matchup in that Florida trio — one week ago in Tampa — was a breakout performance for Bedard, the first overall pick five months ago at the 2023 NHL Draft.

Against the Lightning, Bedard recorded his first career multipoint game (two goals, two assists) as Chicago scored four times in the first period and downed Tampa Bay 5-3.

In a 4-3 loss at the Florida Panthers on Sunday afternoon, Bedard netted two more goals, bringing his total to nine through 13 games.

Linemate Nick Foligno said Bedard’s game is blossoming.

“Those (goals) are special, both of them,” Foligno said after Bedard beat Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky with both. “They were great individual efforts, and that’s what he does for you. When you have a player like that, and I’ve played with a couple — they call them game breakers — they either win you the game or they keep you in a game like tonight. … He’s able to do it sometimes.

“Those are the guys who can sometimes get you a win that you maybe don’t deserve. … You can see the game is starting to slow down for him, which is scary.”

Stuck in their worst stretch of play this season, the Lightning dropped consecutive matches in regulation to the Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes and St. Louis Blues.

The first two of those were on home ice, but Tuesday’s 5-0 shutout at the hands of the Blues was a weak way to open a quick two-game road trip through the Midwest.

In crafting his 13th career shutout, Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington stopped all 30 shots to blank Tampa Bay for the second time.

That marked the second consecutive shutout of the Lightning after the Carolina Hurricanes’ Pyotr Kochetkov slammed the door on them Saturday.

The last time the Lightning were shut out consecutively was in October 2015 on the road against the Blackhawks and Blues.

Coach Jon Cooper’s team hasn’t found the net in 122 minutes, 10 seconds.

“People are going to look and say we’ve been shut out the last couple games,” said Cooper, whose team has only six wins in 16 outings. “The problem is it’s not our offense. We’re giving up gifts. We’re having good stretches in the game and it’s been the story this year is just giving up those easy ones.”

Victor Hedman said his teammates have a test on their hands.

“This is where it really tests your mental strength,” the defenseman said. “We haven’t gone through this a lot lately and some guys probably haven’t gone through it. It’s just how you respond to this. We’ve just got to make sure that the guys who have been here a long time lead the way.”

–Field Level Media

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