Blackhawks

How will the Kings' Cup affect the Blackhawks?

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How will the Kings' Cup affect the Blackhawks?

And so the bar has been set for the Blackhawks. And 28 other teams.

The Los Angeles Kings became the third straight Stanley Cup winner to end a long drought (in their case, their first in their 44-year existence), and the first to win at home since their crosstown rivals won it five years ago.

Since the Blackhawks won two years ago, the trends have changed to dominant goaltending (Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick) and lesser importance towards home ice. Depth and toughness mean more than speed and open ice once the post-season begins, since top defensive pairs are glued to the superstars. Recent history shows that happens through four rounds more times than not. Matchups matter. So does momentum, even if you sneak in as an eighth seed.

The Hawks actually had pretty decent momentum heading into the playoffs. But they got a bad matchup. And as humiliating as a first-round exit was, it was still a very close series.

But sometimes things just "line up," as the timing did for these new champs who were a mystery and a disappointment for most of the season. Two moves were made - and their impact really didn't kick in until the perfect time. Darryl Sutter and Jeff Carter. Personally, I wasn't sure Sutter was the right fit at the time he was hired. Turns out the general manager had a history with, and faith in, the head coach he brought aboard. He could press the right buttons and stir the ingredients he had on his roster.

Sutter finally smiled Monday night. REALLY smiled. Finally. In his fourth head coaching stint. Colin Fraser smiled a lot, too, being on the ice at the end of the game, when he officially became a Cup winner for the second time in three years. And now with the team's makeup, expectations will be high, having as many as the returning parts that made Boston a favorite to repeat this year. So what happened? The Bruins got knocked out in the first round, just like the Hawks. The magic and the mojo is tough to maintain these days. So the Kings had better enjoy it.

So now that this bar has been set, we'll be watching how things develop in our own backyard. How much Stan Bowman is influenced by what made the Kings (and Devils) successful. Does the defensive corps and goaltending he has now have the makeup or the upside to play at that kind of level? Is the depth and toughness he has - or will assemble - capable of making a night-in, night-out impact through four rounds if the stars are bottled-up? And is his belief in this 'core' as steadfast - and if not, can sentimentality be set aside to make the right moves that'll get his team playing in June once again?

Whenever next season commences after labor issues are worked out, the pressure to run deep in the playoffs after two straight first-round eliminations will be extremely high at 1901 West Madison. The fans' belief in the organization that gave them so much joy two years ago will be tested. Players will feel it. So will coaches and management. Because, after all, it's about that catch-phrase from awhile back that still applies: One Goal.

Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak

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USA TODAY

Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak

Win one game.

That was Joel Quenneville’s message during the Blackhawks’ eight-game losing streak, which finally came to an end on Saturday night.

How about a 7-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on home ice for a streak-breaker? Now that’s more like it.

Prior to Saturday, the Blackhawks hadn’t recorded a win in February — or a win at the United Center since Jan. 12. 

Though the Blackhawks will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were rookies, a blowout win over the leaders of the Metropolitan Division Capitals had to have felt great.

"It’s a nice way to get over the hump," Toews said. "Sometimes you might just win a 2-1 game or just kind of grind it out, but it was nice for us to fill the net the way we did tonight."

Added Joel Quenneville, "Certainly feels 100 times better than coming in and trying to explain how we had a lead and were unable to sustain it. The complete 60 minutes, three periods the right way, more consistency in our game, way more pace than we’ve seen recently, composure with the puck, shooting around the net. It was fun but that’s one. Let’s see how we respond to this because there’s a lot of hockey left."

The Blackhawks are 25-26-8 with 58 points, and are 11 points out the final wild card spot, currently held by the Minnesota Wild.

Among the highlights:

— Seven different Blackhawks scored: Toews, Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Artem Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman

— The Blackhawks are 74-6-4 in the regular season in which Kane and Toews both record a goal — and 41-0-0 in their last 41 games, according to NBC Sports Chicago stats guru Chris Kamka.

— Kane registered career assist No. 500, becoming the sixth Blackhawk with 500 or more. Kane is also the seventh U.S.-born player with 300-plus goals and 500-plus assists, joining Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Pat LaFontaine, Joe Mullen and Phil Housley, according to Kamka.

"You think about the amount of great Americans that have played the game, how many players actually play hockey in the United States... Growing up all I wanted to do was play hockey," Kane said. "That means a lot, especially when you talk about American-born players."

— DeBrincat's 22nd goal of the season has him tied for the rookie-lead with Tampa Bay Lightning's Yanni Gourde. DeBrincat and Kane also lead the Blackhawks with 22 goals.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”