Blackhawks

Crawford's performance one of many positives

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Crawford's performance one of many positives

The Blackhawks like the way they played, and for the most part, there's not much to complain about over their final 40 minutes last night in Vancouver.

If they keep playing as they did over the final two periods, they should win in Calgary and Edmonton, and 2-0-1 would be the next-best-thing to start this nine-game test. Thing is, they need to start playing like that all the time, make the "ifs" a non-factor, and, to be blunt, getting one of a potential six points these last three games against two teams now above you in the Western standings can't continue. Not when Nashville starts the second half by storming from behind in the third period against a desperate Wild team in Minnesota. Not when Detroit starts their own western Canadian swing with a win in Calgary. It's just the bottom line of what they're dealing with.

We'll chalk up the first period defense to some six-day rust. That was also a pretty good team on the other side, much as we might not want to admit it (and even better with the goalie they started). Once the Hawks got their bearings back under them, they played well, and carried the action the majority of the time. It also seemed evident to this pair of eyes that Patrick Sharp was still feeling his way back, if not being a little tentative, after three weeks away. Throw in a brand new center with him and Marian Hossa, and we'll see how that line progresses, and how much Brendan Morrison can provide.

Until we get that answer, Stan Bowman has to continue to make adding a top-four defenseman the ideal priority. The main one who was on the market, Carolina's Tim Gleason, re-upped for four years with the 'Canes, so that field shrinks and the competition for what's left becomes tougher. So before we start plucking names on our wish lists, think again whom and how many you'd be willing to sacrifice from among the young crop (Kruger? Hayes? Olsen? Morin? Pirri?) to beat out the competition for that piece -- whether it's on the blueline, or another forward if Morrison's not the answer. John Scott barely played last night, and if you picked him over O'Donnell and Lepisto, the other five (especially the top two) can't be asked to suck up all the unbalanced minutes.

It was a confidence-building game for Corey Crawford. His performance was one of a handful of positives to take out of Vancouver. But it only got the Blackhawks one point. I'll still take a team that's healthy and hitting its stride come playoff time over one that finds life easy during the regular season. It's all about that build-up. But as we flip the calendar to February, the rest of the teams in front of the Hawks don't seem to care about that mindset.

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

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USA TODAY

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

It’s official: The Blackhawks are headed back outdoors.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will be held at Notre Dame Stadium, featuring the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1.

"The Blackhawks and Bruins, two of our most historic franchises, will be meeting outdoors for the first time at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams."

"The Chicago Blackhawks are honored to be participating in this marquee event at an iconic venue like Notre Dame Stadium," Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said in a statement. "The University of Notre Dame has strong alumni roots in both Chicago and Boston, and, with an established rivalry between the Blackhawks and Bruins, fans will be treated to an exciting game in a unique atmosphere. We appreciate the invitation to the game and look forward to what will be a great day for both franchises and the National Hockey League."

It's the sixth time the Blackhawks will be playing outdoors, and their league-leading fourth Winter Classic. The Blackhawks are 1-4-0 in outdoor games, and are winless in three Winter Classic games.

Chicago's only outdoor win came against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series Classic, a 5-1 victory at Soldier Field.

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

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USA TODAY

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

The goals came in bunches for the Blackhawks in their Oct. 5 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the Blackhawks, it was a nice memory, albeit one that seems far away given they went from scoring at will through their first two games to not being able to buy a goal for a sizeable stretch.

As for the Penguins, well, you figure their memoires of that game means they’ll be more than a little ticked off when the Blackhawks arrive on Saturday night.

“We’ve been on the wrong side of a few losses like that,” Patrick Sharp said. “You certainly remember them more than other losses.”

This is kind of/sort of about the Penguins, who in the first meeting were clearly tired not only from two Stanley Cup runs but also from their season opener/banner raising the prior night. But it’s more about the Blackhawks who, after a lengthy scoring drought, are starting to get their offense going again (15 goals in their last three games).

And while they’d like to shore up their defense – they blew a 4-1 lead vs. New Jersey and just about did it again vs. the New York Rangers – overall they’re trending in the right direction. And just as they face the team against whom they played their best game of the season.

“I’m sure [the Penguins] will be excited about playing us and making things better. They’re playing well, winning some games. For [us], we’re looking for more consistency in our game with the puck and we’re generating some offense,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think it has some ways to improve. That was one night, whether it was the quality of the plays we made or [what], we seemed like we had the puck a lot and did some good things with it. We haven’t seen much of that lately so I think that maybe we can recapture a little bit of that with the puck as well.”

In the past three games the Blackhawks haven’t just reignited their offense, they’ve regained their confidence. Their lines are finding some chemistry. As frustrating as their scoring drought was, they’re hoping it’s behind them.

“At some point in the season I feel like every team goes through it, either in the beginning, the middle or toward the end. You just don’t want to have it right at the end of the season,” Ryan Hartman said. “You can look at it in in a positive way. Hopefully we got that part over with and now we’re just coming in confident and hopefully we put the puck in the net.”

The Blackhawks got off to a hot goal-scoring start against the Penguins by doing the right things: shooting, pouncing on rebounds, getting traffic in front of the net and capitalizing. As they head into their 20th game of the season, the Blackhawks are finally getting back to what worked so well in Game 1.

“Things dried up for a bit but I think we have a good rotation going here with the lines; the chemistry’s starting to fill in a little bit. Some guys are stepping up. [Artem] Anisimov had a big night and Brinsky’s [Alex DeBrincat] playing great. It’s good to see those guys step up. It makes you want to be that next guy who’s called up to step up in the next game,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s good to see some goals go into the net. More important, it’s good to see some wins. But we’re playing the right way and hopefully this will trend in the right direction for us.”