Petr Mrazek makes 49th start, tying career high, but Blackhawks fall to Islanders

Petr Mrazek played well but the Blackhawks lost the Islanders 2-1 on Tuesday.

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ELMONT, N.Y. — The Blackhawks have lost just as many of Petr Mrazek’s stellar starts this season as they’ve won, and that pattern continued Tuesday.

Mrazek stopped 27 of 29 shots, keeping his team alive, but the Islanders nonetheless rallied in the third period to beat the Hawks 2-1 in their fourth-to-last road game of the season.

“I don’t think we had a lot going through,” coach Luke Richardson said. “We had some good [offensive]-zone [possession] time at times, but it was on the outside. We couldn’t get it to the inside to get that shot — or not enough of them anyways.”

Mrazek made his 49th start of the season, tying his career high — which was set way back in 2015-16, the second full season of his career with the Red Wings. After two more appearances, he’ll also match his career high in games played (54).

After plenty of seasons abbreviated by either injuries or poor performance, the 32-year-old Czech netminder has felt from the opening week of the season like a new man, and his performance and durability have both backed up that claim. For the first time since those early days in Detroit, he seems established as an above-average NHL goalie.

“Sometimes people say goalies grow with age and they’re better when they’re older,” Mrazek said Monday. “Hopefully that’s the case and I’ve got that many games or more the next couple of years, as well.

“My body has been feeling great. There’s nothing to complain about. The way I approach things and the way I do things, I feel like I could play every night, so that’s the fun part.”

He said he hasn’t really changed anything about his pregame preparatory or postgame recovery routines as the season has progressed, sticking to the same things that have worked well since October.

Beyond his goaltending techniques and physical strength and flexibility, his confidence has been high all year, which makes a big difference.

The Hawks’ loss to the Senators last week offered an example of that: he allowed two goals in the first seven minutes but then settled down and stopped all 30 shots he faced the rest of the way.

“I remember days, when I was younger, when you’d give up one or two goals quick and think, ‘Oh, this is not the night. Let’s pack it up and move on,’ ” Mrazek said. “But something has changed with me that I want to battle. In the situation we are in, I try to keep the boys in the game. [And even] if it’s 5-0, then you don’t want to give up the sixth one.”

On Tuesday, the Hawks’ new-look first line of Jason Dickinson centering Connor Bedard and Philipp Kurashev was dangerous throughout the night, and they scored the team’s lone goal when Bedard set up Dickinson on a two-on-one rush in the first period.

Connor Bedard with the sweet pass to Jason Dickinson 🔥

— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) April 2, 2024

The other three forward lines, however, were varying degrees of ineffective. The Hawks outshot the Islanders 12-7 during Bedard’s ice time but were outshot 22-7 otherwise.

The Hawks still managed to carry a 1-0 lead into the second intermission, but the Islanders tied the game with a Bo Horvat power-play goal 93 seconds into the final frame — taking advantage of a “dumb” Kurashev holding penalty. A funky bounce in the corner then set the stage for the Islanders’ go-ahead goal by Simon Holmstrom with 10:35 left.

Out of Mrazek’s 49 total starts, he has allowed two or fewer goals during regulation time on 22 occasions, but the Hawks have only won 11 of those games — a stat demonstrating just how inept their offense has been for large swaths of the season. He now sports a .907 save percentage and plus-4.70 goals saved above average (GSAA).

“He’s been our MVP,” Bedard said.

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