Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Stars-stuck

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Hawk Talk: Stars-stuck

Saturday, April 16, 2011
Posted: 8:13 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The last time and only time the nucleus of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson fell into a 2-0 series hole, Marian Hossa was helping the other side.

It was the Western Conference Final two years ago against Detroit. The Hawks came back to win Game 3 at home, then lose in five.

The last time the scoring core of Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa came under such post-season scrutiny as a group was about the same time last year. Through three games of the Nashville series, Kane had two goals and an assist, while the other three had combined for four assists. They responded by collecting 22 points together in winning the final three games to punch their ticket to Round Two versus Vancouver.

Regardless of how much gas is left in their tank after carrying the team just long enough to make it to the playoffs, theyll be looked upon now to fight back in this series against a Canucks team many compare to the 2010 Stanley Cup champions. Kanes secondary assist on Ben Smiths second goal Friday night is the only point among the quartet so far.

I cant speak for those guys (Toews, Kane and Hossa), but the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. That kind of stuff happens in playoff series. Weve been through that before, said Sharp, upon arriving with the team at OHare Saturday afternoon. I turned on the TV after Game 1 and the Vancouver media was talking about how (league scoring champ) Daniel Sedin was shut out. The more important thing to me is finding a way to get some wins.

We exited Vancouver playing two games where maybe we couldve gotten something out of it, but we were nowhere near good enough to be effective, said head coach Joel Quenneville. We expect our top players to all be better, and that probably goes across the board for our entire team. But certainly we need more from those guys, be it offensive zone time, puck possession time, quality scoring chances.

"Our power play has been an area where they can get some positive puck possession and confidence with the puck. But that group provides an area where we have to be improved, and I think that starts with the power play generating some momentum. We havent been very productive in that area, and thats where it can start," Quenneville continued.

No kidding.

The power play that finished the regular season ranked fourth in the NHL is in a 1-for-26 drought the last nine games, and is 1-for-25 against Vancouver this season. Blackhawks ambassador and former head coach Denis Savard said on our Blackhawks Pregame and Postgame Live that the Canucks third-ranked penalty-kill is among the most aggressive in the league, especially up top, cutting down passing lanes, and providing their own short-handed chances. The Hawks have had a first-hand look at that through the first two games.

Opportunity presents itself to be aggressive, explained Sharp, pointing the finger back at their own power play struggles. They certainly like to challenge defensemen up-ice and buzz in the (neutral) zone, but its nothing we cant handle.

Technically, the must-win game isnt the one until the other team is one win away from advancing. In front of what will be an amped-up United Center crowd looking for reasons to derisively chant the opposing goalies last name, center Ryan Johnson thinks the Hawks will need to make sure intelligence, execution, and energy are in synch to get back in the series.

Just because weve come home, the focus cant just be, Hey, we wanna run around, create hits and get the crowd going. Thats the way you get in trouble against a team like this that moves the puck the way they do. Were going to have to do the right things in order to establish a physical game.

Thats something Johnsons ex-team has already established through the first two games: hard, clean hits that can wear a team down over the course of a game and a series. Its something that his team needs to develop against the Sedins and other top Vancouver weapons.

The question is whether they have the right or enough players to do that, defend their own zone, stay out of the penalty box and still create the offense thats been lacking. Thats a pretty long to-do list when youre already down 2-0.

Its that investment that you make early in a series that may not pan out that game, but come Games 5 or 6, as the series goes on, you wear guys down and get guys thinking about it every time they go back and get the puck, or make a play along the wall.

Besides whos scoring and whos not, its another reason why the Presidents Trophy winners need to win just two out of five now, and the defending Cup winners need four out of five.

On the Health Front

(Tomas Kopeckys) progressing. Well see how he is in the morning. Bryan Bickells still getting assessed. Well have a better idea at the morning skate. (Dave Bolland) is 'doubtful'.

Kopecky sat out Game 2 after suffering an upper-body injury early in the series opener. Bickell appeared to have suffered a laceration to the wrist or forearm area from Sami Salos skate in Fridays third period. Bolland would be missing a 17th consecutive game due to a concussion.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

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?