Blackhawks

Blackhawks' confidence grows as series progresses

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Blackhawks' confidence grows as series progresses

The Blackhawks sat at Tuesday’s media session assessing their current situation, down a game to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Not great, for sure. But not new either.

“It's not necessarily a situation you want to be in. The fact [that] this group of players and this organization has been down that road a few times, has been able to persevere has been good for us,” Patrick Sharp said. “We're going to try to draw from that experience and play better games going forward.”

There’s a reason the Blackhawks are still confident heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final: they get better as series continue. In Games 4-7 during coach Joel Quenneville’s tenure here, the Blackhawks are 40-14. It’s a nice number, one that shows how much the Blackhawks get better as a series progresses. Since the 2013 postseason began they’ve trailed in four series, including the 2013 Cup final, when they were down 2-1 to the Boston Bruins. They only failed to come back in one of those four series – last spring against the Los Angeles Kings, who they trailed 3-1 before losing in Game 7.

“I think maybe it's part knowing what we're up against, part just us raising our game, getting better and better as the series go along,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously we don't draw it up in some situations when we get down in a series; it's not part of the plan. But I think we have confidence when we get in those situations that we can take it one game at a time, focus on the next game and continue to put pressure on the other team.”

The Blackhawks have strung together some good moments and some good periods against the Lightning. Their two goals in two minutes during Game 1 was a reminder of how quickly this team can turn the tables in its favor. They were dominant in the first period of Game 3, battering an injured Ben Bishop with 19 shots. The problem is, they haven’t been consistent. They’ve had miscues, they’ve allowed opposing goals not long after they’ve scored and they’ve trailed early in each of the first three games.

But they went down this road against Anaheim, who was blocking a ton of Blackhawks shots through the first few games. Then the Blackhawks broke through, got big contributions from top players – Toews led with four goals in the last three games – and upended the Ducks on visiting ice.

Maybe it’s a feeling-out process through those first few games sometimes. But the response has nonetheless been there late.

“We always want to start off the series good. I don't know, I just think it's a thing we have on our team: when the game is on the line, it matters more, we usually find a way to elevate our game a little bit,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “Hopefully we can do the same thing here in the last couple games.”

The Blackhawks have starred in this movie before, the one that has that slow start, the buildup in the middle and the flourish at the end. Whether or not they manage the same script against the Lightning remains to be seen. The Blackhawks usually have an edge in how they’ve dealt with postseason pressure, but so far, the Lightning have done well in that department, too. Still, the Blackhawks have the confidence they can find a way as a series continues. They’ve got the great record to show for it, too.

“The guys in the room, we want to be out there and win. We want to be out there in those situations and play in big games,” Brent Seabrook said. “For whatever reason, I think we play our best games when our backs are up against the wall.”

UPDATES

  • Coach Joel Quenneville said Johnny Oduya, who missed some time with an upper-body injury in Game 3, “looked all right today. We'll see how he is tomorrow.”
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk had a solid outing in his first NHL game since November. Said Niklas Hjalmarsson, “he made some really, really nice plays and showed patience and calmness with the puck. To just come in like that in the Stanley Cup Finals, play the way he did, was nothing else than impressive.”
  • Quenneville said, “we’ll see” when asked if the Blackhawks will have any lineup changes in Game 4.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Seth Gruen (Big Ten Unfiltered) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel. 

The Blackhawks drop their 8th straight. So should their “One Goal” be to tank?

Plus, Jon Lester isn’t a fan of the new pace of play proposals. Is he right?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

After losing their eighth straight game and falling 12 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks' playoff chances have dipped to a season-low 0.2 percent. It would take a miracle for them to extend their postseason streak to 10 at this point, where getting just one win seems like a monumental task.

The Blackhawks were probably never really going to be buyers before the Feb. 26 trade deadline even if they were still in the hunt, but it's hard to imagine they had plans to be sellers. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has reiterated over and over again that he's confident in this group, one that's getting younger and faster.

But now they've reached a territory where they have to consider selling off spare parts simply to coup some draft picks or prospects that they could perhaps retain or use as sweeteners in the offseason.

So which players could the Blackhawks realistically sell?

Let's start with the two players getting rewarded with top-six ice time as of late: Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels.

These are two players that play with high energy and go to the greasy areas, something that's important in the playoffs when scoring goals becomes more difficult. They can clean up rebounds. Wingels, particularly, likely has more value and it's showing given his recent success on the power play as a net-front presence guy. He also isn't a stranger to the playoffs with 54 games under his belt compared to Bouma's five.

Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and are making $1 million or fewer, which certainly works in the Blackhawks' favor considering they won't cost much and their cap hits are easy to fit in on any interested team.

Maybe a team would like to take a flyer on Tomas Jurco, who's a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but that would be a move somebody makes as more of a longer term project than strengthening your depth for a playoff run this spring.

On the back end, Michal Kempny and Jan Rutta could be in play for a contender looking to ensure some depth as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Again, each of them are making less than $1 million so it's a low-risk situation for clubs whose Plan A or B fall through and may be interested in at least getting something.

While they don't have much NHL experience, they're both 27 years old and have played the sport long enough to know what they can bring to the table.

Once Feb. 26 passes and potential roster spots open up, expect the Blackhawks to start calling up the kids. 

Matthew Highmore deserves a look after leading the Rockford IceHogs with 20 goals and 32 points. John Hayden has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games since joining Rockford, and belongs in the NHL. Even Anthony Louis, who's taken a step forward, should get a taste of the action as he continues his development.

Carl Dahlstrom is getting his shot now. Erik Gustafsson is in that process as well. Gustav Forsling had another extended look during the first half of the season before the team decided it would be wise to continue his development in Rockford, where he can play top-pairing minutes.

All of this would give the Blackhawks a better indicator of how they can approach the upcoming offseason, and which young guys they can possibly add into the mix for 2018-19. But first, we have to see how the end of February plays out before making those calls.