Now Blackhawks turn their attention to Predators


Now Blackhawks turn their attention to Predators

Watch the first two games of the Blackhawks-Predators playoff series Wednesday and Friday on Comcast Sportsnet, with Pregame Live coverage beginning 30 minutes before the puck drops.

DENVER – The Blackhawks will look at their 82nd regular-season game for what it was: a pretty good game, sans a few of their top players, despite it being their fourth loss in a row.

But Saturday wasn’t so much about looking back as looking forward: it’s playoff time.

The Blackhawks closed out their regular season with their fourth consecutive loss, a 3-2 defeat to the Colorado Avalanche. It was another one-goal loss, this one coming in the last 33 seconds. But considering the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff path was set hours before this game and Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith took the night off to rest, the Blackhawks could live with it.

And now it’s all about the Nashville Predators, the Blackhawks’ opponent when the playoffs begin next week. Nashville hosts the first two games, with Game 1 slated for 7:30 p.m. CT Wednesday and Game 2 scheduled for 8:30 p.m. CT Friday. Games 3 and 4 are back in Chicago; Game 3 is 2 p.m. April 19 and Game 4 is 8:30 p.m. April 21. The Blackhawks haven’t seen the Predators since Dec. 29, when they had their final regular-season matchup in Chicago. The Predators also had a bumpy regular-season finish, going 0-4-2 in their last six games. But the Blackhawks say that means nothing.

“It starts fresh; everything’s even,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They had a great start to their season. They have a tremendousback end, they’re strong in net and have assets up front. Certainly they’re dangerous in a lot of ways. It’s a great year from where they were last year. It’ll be a great matchup.”

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The Blackhawks should enter the first round in pretty good health. Brad Richards and Kimmo Timonen, who each missed these last few regular-season games with upper-body injuries, should be ready to go. The one wildcard is Patrick Kane (fractured left clavicle), who has been skating well and taking stronger shots but has yet to be cleared for contact according to Quenneville. Still, it seems Kane will join the Blackhawks sooner than the original timetable, which put him out until the Western Conference Finals.

Still, if Kane’s not cleared for this first round, the Blackhawks have to be prepared to play without him. They have to find a way to score goals, something they’ve been lacking down the stretch – five goals in their last four games.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoffs, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks will take their final regular-season game for what it was: a pretty solid game despite missing Kane, Keith, Toews and Corey Crawford, who was also given the night off to rest. They’ll start on the road and against a Predators team that has offense to go with the defense and goaltending they’ve had for years. Let the second season begin.

“Well, we know we’re facing an extremely good team,” Marian Hossa said. “They played very consistent the whole season. They have great balance and [they’re] very dangerous offensively. It’ll be a great challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”

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


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

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?