Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Blackhawks sour as favorites

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Hawk Talk: Blackhawks sour as favorites

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
5:00 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO Everyone and his brother may not be picking the Blackhawks to win the 2010 Stanley Cup over the Philadelphia Flyers, but even the contrarians will acknowledge the series stacks up favoring Chicago.

Just dont go trying to sell that suit of clothes to the Redshirts themselves.

Honestly, it feels like just another seriesthats the way we have to approach it, Blackhawks forward Adam Burish said. Its two kind of cocky teams playing each other. The media tells us were favorites, but we dont care.

Teammate Brian Campbell also shifted the focus on favorites to the fellas asking the questions: We dont feel like were favoritesthats for you media to talk about. Weve just played them one time.

And by way of deflating Chicago as favorites, that one game this season is a smart tact to take. Hosting the Hawks last March 13, Philadelphia played its best game of the season to that point, keeping pace with every high-flying Chicago stride. The game went from bad to tragic when first Scott Hartnell tied the game with just 2:04 remaining, and then Chris Pronger snuck backdoor and took a sweet cross-ice feed from Claude Giroux for the buzzer-beater.

That was our most frustrating loss, all year long, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said, the memory of the lost points still singing his stache a touch. It was a tough pill to swallow.

But the loss may have been a cautionary tale for Chicago. It in fact foreshadowed a couple weeks worth of true floundering by the Blackhawks, enduring their worst stretch of the season late in March, as the playoffs loomed.

We did snap out of it, Blackhawks alternacap John Madden said. It was tough to weather. I, for oneand I think everybody else in the Blackhawks dressing room as wellwas tired of learning lessons. The season was starting to drag. We might have been guilty of looking too far ahead and not taking care of the business in front of us.

That March game was uncharacteristic in that there were more than twice as many shots (75) as hits (34), which touches on a couple of things. First of all, theres no way the Flyers can get lured into playing such a style vs. Chicago in the Stanley Cup, particularly not in a feeling-out Game 1. Second, if Philadelphia does hope to run with the high-flying Hawks, its going to be a short series.

That said, theres little that will convince the Blackhawks they are the team to beat for title.

Were not favorites, not in our terms, Chicago forward Troy Brouwer said. Theyre obviously a good team that knows what its like to be desperate, to play hard every night. We havent has as much exposure to that.

Indicative of how grounded the Blackhawks are is that even the most confident of the Redshirts, forward Kris Versteeg, who scored Chicagos first goal in the 3-2 loss at Wachovia Center a couple of months ago, wouldnt bite the favorites bait.

Thats a compliment that people are giving you, to call you the favorites, Steeger said. But it doesnt mean much to us. The league is so close, theres so much parity. Perhaps the very worst of the teams in the East arent very good, but otherwise the top eight in both conferences are all strong teams. You dont make it this far without being a favorite.

Besides, the colorful Burish has figured out one way that Philadelphia has the edge over his Blackhawks.

They have a cooler story than we do, he said. They got into the playoffs on a shootout. Even we cant match that.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?