Blackhawks

Blackhawks-Predators Round 1: Who has the edge?

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Blackhawks-Predators Round 1: Who has the edge?

The matchup is set and on Wednesday night, it begins when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round series.

So who has the edge? No, we don’t do overall predictions, but we will break down the various categories and see who’s got the advantage in them. Let’s proceed.

Forwards

Patrick Kane was cleared on Monday, and with that the Blackhawks’ forward depth gets a tremendous boost. If he is back beginning with Game 1 – we still think that may be a bit too soon, but not our call – the Blackhawks’ puck-possession and scoring games should automatically get better. Kane had 64 points when he suffered his injury on Feb. 24. Only Jonathan Toews has more than that now (66). For all the forward talent the Blackhawks have, they've struggled to score and that hurt them down the stretch.

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The Predators bolstered their lineup over the summer, adding scoring weapons like James Neal and Mike Ribeiro. Filip Forsberg had put together a nice rookie season, recording a team-high 63 points (Ribeiro is next with 62).

We’d give the Blackhawks the automatic edge here normally, even with the Predators’ additions. But since that scoring has gone by the wayside… EDGE: Even.

Defense

Between Nick Leddy’s trade in September and Trevor van Riemsdyk’s injury in November, the Blackhawks defense took some hits. The changes and injuries had coach Joel Quenneville splitting up Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, as well as Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya. Michal Rozsival has struggled, as had David Rundblad. Kimmo Timonen was acquired at the deadline. But between coming off a 10-month recovery off blood clots and missing the last three games with an upper-body injury, he has yet to make an impact.

When you think Nashville you think Shea Weber and that howitzer of a shot he has from the blue line. Opponents who have gotten in its way have the bruises to prove it. Roman Josi has been tremendous, recording 55 points and a plus-15 rating this season. Here’s another toss-up category. EDGE: Even.

Goaltending

Corey Crawford is having arguably his best season with the Blackhawks. Other than the rough spot he had after his off-ice ankle injury, Crawford’s been strong. He was especially key down the stretch, when he led the Blackhawks to victories despite a lack of offense. Pekka Rinne wasn’t at his best as the regular season ended but he was still damn good this season, finishing with an NHL third-best 2.18 goals-against average and an eighth-best .923 goals-against average. Why do we sense a few 2-1 games and maybe a shutout or two coming in this series? EDGE: Even.

Power play

We were all set to give this category to the Predators but their power play is actually ranked lower than the Blackhawks’ advantage (25th in the league compared to 20th). Who knew? But the Predators did score three power-play goals over their last five regular season games. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, haven’t scored a power-play goal since March 30. EDGE: Predators

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Penalty kill

The Blackhawks took a hit in this department toward the end of the season but there could have been a few reasons for that. Joakim Nordstrom, a good killer, was injured for several games. Then Jonathan Toews was pulled off it to lessen his minutes down the stretch. They finished the regular season 10th best on the kill. The Predators weren’t faring much better and were 18th in the NHL on it this season. The kill has been a strong suit for the Blackhawks the past few years. It probably will be again this postseason. EDGE: Blackhawks

Intangibles

Full marks to Nashville: they got a new coach (Peter Laviolette), a new system and a new attitude. The Predators got off to a fantastic start this season before a few hiccups at the end, but they sat atop the Central for quite some time before St. Louis usurped them. The Blackhawks have a wealth of experience at this time of year. They know how to deal with the ups and downs, know how to enjoy the victory for a short time and forget about the crushing overtime loss immediately. And that experience may prove to be the difference. EDGE: Blackhawks

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

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AP

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?