Blackhawks

Closing it out: Five things from Blackhawks-Wild

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Closing it out: Five things from Blackhawks-Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When the Blackhawks began their second-round series with the Minnesota Wild, many expected this series to go six, seven games to declare a winner.

But in just four games — albeit four close games — the Blackhawks dispatched the Wild for the third consecutive postseason. The end came quicker than most of us foresaw, even those of us who shun predictions like Dracula shuns sunlight. Maybe it was experience, maybe it was all parts of their game clicking, but the Blackhawks collected their second series sweep since 2010, when they did the same to the San Jose Sharks in that year’s Western Conference Finals.

[MORE: Blackhawks sweep Wild, move on to Western Conference Final]

So before we pack up and head home for an extended rest, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 4-3 victory over the Wild.

1. Playing to the end.

Yes, it was an interesting ending with the Wild scoring twice in the final two-plus minutes to cut Chicago’s lead to just one goal. As coach Joel Quenneville called it, it was “haywire.” Still, this was a pretty complete effort, not just in this game but also in the other three. The Blackhawks knew it wasn’t going to be easy. They knew the Wild would come with everything it had, and it just about forced a Game 5. But credit the Blackhawks for coming up with that one last stop at the end to avoid playing another game.

2. Patrick Kane does it again.

Let’s all move past the “oh, he was supposed to be out 12 weeks” thing, shall we? Kane isn’t the first guy to come back after six or seven weeks from a fractured clavicle. Not sure, though, that many have come back as well as he has. After a decent first round Kane took off in this one, and he scored his fifth goal of this series in the third period tonight. Said Kane following this one, “I still think there’s some areas that I can try to improve a little bit.” Sure, let’s go with that.

[SHOP: Get a Patrick Kane jersey here]

3. Defensive changes coming.

Michal Rozsival suffered a horrific-looking left-leg injury on Thursday night and Quenneville said it “doesn’t look good.” Doubt Rozsival is back for the Western Conference Finals or beyond this postseason. The Blackhawks’ remaining defensemen, especially the top four, played well in the period-plus of Rozsival’s absence. Those four will benefit from the rest they’ll get now and Quenneville has to figure out his fifth and sixth defensemen. Does David Rundblad draw in? Does Kimmo Timonen, who’s playing limited minutes stay in the lineup? As Quenneville always tells us, we’ll see.

4. A frustrating end for the Wild.

Minnesota thought it had enough to get over the hump this season, to finally beat the Blackhawks in the postseason. But as in the previous two times against the Blackhawks, the Wild’s best weren’t that in this series. Zach Parise had just one goal, and that was in Game 1. Same for Nino Niederreiter, who didn’t score until the waning minutes of Game 4. Ryan Suter had a horrible series. Devan Dubnyk wasn’t the difference in goal. The Wild had a tremendous second half to the regular season. They deserve full marks for getting this far. But head to head vs. the Blackhawks, the same issues were there once again.

5. Get some rest.

We’ll see how long this Western Conference Final wait ends up being, but the Blackhawks will take any rest they can get this time of year. They should have a couple of days, at least, to relax, unwind and watch other teams play hockey. Let’s not get into the rust-or-ready stuff yet. It’s the postseason, and healing bumps and bruises, even if they’re minor, is more important right now. The Blackhawks have earned a nice break. They’ll use it wisely.

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.