The Blackhawks are going to take their goaltending competition day by day, but there’s one guy who’s making a strong early impression so far: Kevin Lankinen.
In just his second career NHL start, the 25-year-old rookie stopped 30 of 31 shots for a save percentage of .968 in Friday’s 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center. It was the first victory of his young NHL career and he was named the No. 1 star of the game.
“Wow, it feels great,” Lankinen said. “I mean, what can I say? Friday night in Chicago, home opener at the United Center, get your first NHL win. Only the fans were missing. That sucks, but other than that, feels awesome.”
Lankinen was coming off a performance in which he gave up five goals on 30 shots for a save percentage of .833 in Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers. He followed that up by turning aside the first 24 shots he faced on Friday and was near perfect before having his shutout bid broken with 7:38 left in regulation.
“I would lie if I would say it didn’t cross my mind,” a smiling Lankinen said when asked if he started to think about a potential shutout. “It always does. But, most importantly, I didn’t think about the score. I just wanted to win so bad. I came in here prior to the game and prepared myself just to win, whatever it takes.”
The Blackhawks didn’t play their best hockey, but they got strong goaltending and that filters through the rest of the group.
“He was great tonight,” Patrick Kane said. “He’s a confident kid. He wants to do well and he believes in himself, so nice to see him get his first win and play well doing it.”
“I thought he was really good,” echoed head coach Jeremy Colliton. “Very controlled, made some big saves for us, certainly in the first period when we needed one when we weren’t quite going yet. Penalty kill … he was solid for us and you felt confident with him there.”
The Blackhawks’ goaltending competition is in full swing, and Lankinen turned in the best performance of any in the early going. Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban got the first two cracks and weren’t bad but weren’t great. Lankinen was next in line and bounced back with a terrific outing.
While every start matters, the external pressure isn’t getting to Lankinen. He wants to be the future No. 1 goaltender of the Blackhawks and that’s all he’s focused on.
“There’s always pressure playing goalie,” Lankinen said. “I think that’s just part of the position, part of the job. My pressure comes from inside. I want to play well, I want to be on top of my game; that’s where my pressure comes from and when I succeed in that, that’s when I feel the most successful.”