SUNRISE, Fla. — The Chicago Blackhawks didn't have much business being in Sunday's game that resulted in a 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers. But Connor Bedard stayed hot and basically single-handedly kept his team in it.
"He was good," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "He was our only guy really looking to attack and shoot, especially in the second period."
Bedard scored two goals — which included one for the highlight reel — and was on early hat trick watch for the second straight contest after he earned four points in Thursday's 5-3 win over Tampa Bay. He now has nine points (seven goals, two assists) in his last six games after having four points (two goals, two assists) in his first seven.
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"I think you obviously get more used to it and that’s kind of my goal in games, is to try to improve every game," Bedard said. "Not saying get more points than I did the last game, but just feel more comfortable and feel I can make more plays. But I think that just comes with time.
"Trying to get more comfortable, but there’s been games maybe I could have had a couple points and it didn’t go. But obviously it’s nice to get on the scoresheet."
Every great team needs a player that can strap its team on their shoulders when the team isn't at its best. Bedard, to no one's surprise, is that player for the Blackhawks.
Heck, even Bedard's line struggled as a whole against Aleksander Barkov. But Bedard has the ability to make an impact on just one or two shifts and it could be the difference between a win or loss.
"That's what he does for you," Nick Foligno said. "I've played with a couple like that; you call them 'game-breakers.' They either win you the game or they keep you in a game, like tonight where maybe we didn't deserve that but he's able to do it sometimes.
"The way he plays and his individual efforts and abilities, you appreciate it because you don't want it to bail you out every night, but those are the guys that can sometimes get you a win that you maybe don't deserve. I was hoping he was going to get that third one, but it's nice to see him rolling and feeling good about it.
"You can see the game is starting to slow down for him, which is scary."
The Panthers generated 31 scoring chances on Sunday, per Natural Stat Trick. The Blackhawks had only 11.
The game was close because Bedard dragged his team into the fight.
"There's a reason why you want those players on your team," Foligno said. "They have the ability, when the puck is on their stick, they want to make something happen and they want to make a difference.
"We're very lucky to have him and it's a good lesson for all of us sometimes. Not everyone, in the role that they are in, has those abilities, but it's making a difference whenever you're on the ice, whatever that may be in your role."
Scoring goals is one thing. It's the way Bedard is doing it that's been impressive as of late.
Bedard is outmuscling players double his size. He's stripping pucks from some of the NHL's best players. He's making elite goaltenders look silly. And this is just the last two games.
Where I've seen the biggest growth from Bedard from Game 1 to Game 13 is his relentless forechecking mentality. He believes that's where he's taken significant strides, too.
"I think battles, for sure," Bedard said. "Obviously you’ve got to respect everyone in the league and it’s guys you grew up watching. But now that’s guys I’m competing against, so I don’t want to go in there and not battle my hardest. That’s what I’m always going to do.
"I mean, today, there were so many plays I’m going over in my head right now that could have been better. I think now it’s just try to improve there."
The floodgates have started to open for Bedard, who has become appointment television.
It's not going to be easy every night. There will be games where he struggles. But even in those games, Bedard is capable of negating all of it with one play or shift. He's a difference-maker.
"He’s just got some special qualities," Richardson said. "He's starting to find himself in this league. Guys are learning how to play with them as well.
"Over every so many years, there's a special player that gets here and they can do it right away, or they find their way really quickly. That's what we're seeing with Connor."