Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks host defending champion Penguins


Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks host defending champion Penguins

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Blackhawks' season opener against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Red Carpet.

1. Three-headed showdown: Crosby-Malkin-Letang vs. Toews-Kane-Keith

A big reason why many hockey fans have been waiting for a Chicago-Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Final this decade is because of the star power both teams have and the big markets they play in. It starts with these six guys, all of whom will likely go into the Hockey Hall of Fame when their careers are all said and done. 

Among them, they have a combination of six Conn Smythe Trophy's, four Hart Trophy's and three Stanley Cups each. It's an amazing collection of hardware. It makes you appreciate the matchup even more when you factor in that they only meet twice a year.

And if we're lucky enough, maybe we'll get some 3-on-3 overtime so they can show off their world-class talents in the open ice.

2. Alex DeBrincat's NHL debut.

He's dominated in the Ontario Hockey League, he shined at the Traverse City prospect tournament and he looked great in preseason. Now it's time to see what the 5-foot-7, 165-pound winger can do at the highest level when the games actually count.

There's no question he has the ability and will to succeed in the NHL, but there will still be a learning curve along the way. What better way to get your feet wet than against the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions?

3. How will Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp fare in their official Chicago returns?

A pair of fan-favorites are back in Chicago, and were ultimately brought in for the same reason: help get the Blackhawks back to the top of the mountain.

Saad will look to rekindle his magic with Jonathan Toews on the top line and set the tone for the rest of the lineup, while Sharp can still play top-six minutes (if needed), contribute on the power play and be a veteran presence in the process as they look to bridge the gap with their younger players.

The United Center roof might explode after Saad and Sharp are both welcomed back with video board tributes.

Life was a lot different last time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs

Life was a lot different last time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs

For the first time in a decade, the Blackhawks officially will not be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night at the United Center, the Blackhawks will be sitting at home mid-April instead of looking to add to their trophy case.

Exactly 366 days before, the Blackhawks actually became the first NHL team to clinch a playoff berth, also the result of a game against the Avs:

The last time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs, Denis Savard was the coach and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were just 19 years old in the midst of their rookie seasons.

The next year, Joel Quenneville took over as coach after four games and led the Blackhawks all the way to the Conference Finals.

Of course, the following year (2009-10 season) brought the first of three Stanley Cups.

For perspective on how incredible this stretch has been for the Blackhawks, here's how the other professional Chicago sports teams spent 2008:

—The Bears finished 9-7 in Matt Forte's rookie year (he's since retired) with Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback and Lovie Smith as head coach.

—The Cubs led the National League in runs scored en route to a 97-win regular season...before falling flat against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. Lou Piniella was still the manager and Theo Epstein was still three years away from coming to Chicago.

—The Bulls found some incredible luck, pulling the No. 1 overall pick and selecting Chicago native Derrick Rose. He helped the Bulls to a 41-41 season as a rookie under coach Vinny Del Negro.

—The White Sox lost to Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS after winning the AL Central under manager Ozzie Guillen. Carlos Quentin enjoyed a breakout season (36 HR, 100 RBI) while Gavin Floyd won 17 games. 

The Blackhawks still have eight games left before the 2017-18 season ends April 7.

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

For Alex DeBrincat, it was probably nice to hear Chelsea Dagger again.

But how about three times?

The 20-year-old rookie snapped out of a 13-game scoring drought in a big way on Sunday night, recording his third hat trick of the season. DeBrincat did all he could to help give the Blackhawks two points, but they only came away with one in a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

DeBrincat is now the first rookie in franchise history with three hat tricks in the same season, passing Steve Larmer. His last two hat tricks came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 27, 2017 and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 25.

"It's pretty cool," DeBrincat said of his third hat trick, "but I wouldn't be able to do that without the guys we have in this locker room and the linemates I've had. Most credit to them."

Entering Sunday, his last goal was on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously it's frustrating when you go through a slump that like that but what I've learned is to stay positive and there's other things you can help your team win with," DeBrincat said. "Just kind of focus on those things."

He netted goals No. 23, 24 and 25 on the season, tying Patrick Kane for the team lead. He is also tied for second among goals scored by a rookie this season.

DeBrincat opened the scoring with nice wrist shot on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first. With less than a minute to go in the period, he tapped one home in front of the net to make it 2-0.

In the third period with the game tied at 3-3, DeBrincat put his team in front 4-3 with 3:13 left in regulation. 

“We were talking about [DeBrincat] today, it had been a while since he had scored," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But whether he scores or not, he does a lot of good things in the game, and he’s very aware of his positioning, and doing the right things, finding pucks, getting in shooting lanes, or denying passing lanes. So he’s effective in a lot of ways, but nice to see him score a nice power-play goal today.”

But Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo even things up again after a shot from the point found its way past J-F Berube with 1:22 left. Patrik Berglund would net the game-winner in overtime to hand the Blackhawks a loss.

"I feel like we’ve played well and we just came up a little bit short," DeBrincat said. "I feel like that’s been the theme of this whole season.”