Blackhawks

After memorable night in home finale for Blackhawks, Chris Kunitz unsure of what NHL future holds

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USA TODAY

After memorable night in home finale for Blackhawks, Chris Kunitz unsure of what NHL future holds

Chris Kunitz deserved this. 

In 15 NHL seasons, he leads all active players with four Stanley Cups, hit the 1,000-game mark this season despite beginning his career as an undrafted free agent and once scored a memorable double-overtime goal in Game 7 to send the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final, which they eventually won for the second straight year. He's seemingly done it all in the pros.

So at 39 years of age and his hockey career likely coming to an end, it was fitting that he found the back of the net to potentially cap things off in his final game and, to him, scoring the way he did — with the puck barely crossing the goal line and the review finally going his way.

"I was thinking that they took a lot away from me throughout my career, would've been nice to get one more," Kunitz joked on what was going through his mind while waiting for the official call. "Kicked a lot in or had a lot called back. But it was obviously a special night to get one."

It was special because Kunitz signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks last summer in part because his wife and her family is from Chicago. It gave him the opportunity to extend his playing career while staying close to those that mattered most.

He's reached the point in his life where consulting with them is a priority as far as his future goes.

"I'm trying not to, honestly," Kunitz said, shortly after his smiling son joined in on the postgame press conference. "I don't want to make a rash decision. I've talked to a lot of guys that have maybe said that they should just wait it out or wait till you know for sure, and having the season come to an end early and not be in the playoffs, I want to sit back and reflect with my family and talk about where we're going to be. It's not all about myself anymore. Three kids who are getting up there in age that expect a lot from me to be around and sometimes it gets long for my wife being there by herself, so just trying not to be selfish about it. I've been fortunate enough to be in this league for a long time. We'll sit back and see where we are."

The thought of retirement after the season started to creep into Kunitz's mind after he was a healthy scratch for 14 of 17 games in December through early January. He was a pro about the way he handled it, but it left a sour taste in his mouth because he didn't want himself to remember his career that way.

While it's unclear what he'll decide to do this summer, the Blackhawks respectively gave Kunitz a courtesy start alongside Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the final game at the United Center this season. And if it was Kunitz's last one too, going out as the No. 2 star of the game in front of his family was a perfect way to do it.

"You know what, for the second half of the year I tried to think that this may be the last one," Kunitz acknowledged. "You never know. Being healthy scratched and having that part of your career and not knowing if you can go back in there or where the season was turning. Fortunate enough to get back in there and have some competitive games and play a little more like myself and remember myself as playing, so I try to leave it all out there.

"And hopefully if today was the last one, I left it all out there."

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What we learned about Blackhawks during five-game road trip

What we learned about Blackhawks during five-game road trip

"Every game now is a playoff game, pretty much. We've got to approach it like it's life or death."

Those were the words of Drake Caggiula and that was the mindset for the Blackhawks going into their five-game road trip in Western Canada, which was easily their most important swing of the season to date, given the circumstances. All five teams were ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, the Blackhawks were knocking on the door of a playoff spot and they had a chance to prove themselves ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

The Blackhawks finished the trip with a 1-4-0 record, picking up only two out of a possible 10 points. They ended the weekend sitting six points out of the final wild card spot with two games in hand but four teams to jump. It's not impossible to get back in the race, but the cards are certainly stacked against them.

So what did we learn about this team?

The easy narrative would be to say the Blackhawks shrunk in games that had playoff-type implications, but that‘s just not true. They simply failed to capitalize on their opportunities, and they had plenty of them.

In Game 1 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks held a 2-0 lead before allowing a shorthanded goal in the second period that was the first of five unanswered for the Jets, who went on to win 5-2. The Blackhawks went 0-for-3 on the power play and were outscored (1-0), outshot (3-2) and out-chanced (4-2) during those three opportunities. That was their downfall.

In Game 2 against Edmonton, the Blackhawks held a pair of one-goal leads — 2-1 in the first period and 3-2 in the second period — but couldn’t close the deal despite the Oilers playing without the NHL's best player in Connor McDavid. Again, a huge missed opportunity that was there for the taking.

In Game 3 against Vancouver, the Blackhawks peppered a season-high 49 shots on goal on Jacob Markstrom, 25 of which came from high-danger areas, but couldn't crack the code. It was one of their most dominating performances of the season from start to finish and yet they weren't rewarded for it.

In Game 4 against Calgary, the market quickly corrected itself when the Blackhawks scored a season-high eight goals on 28 shots in an 8-4 win over the Flames. It’s the exact response they were looking for, with all four lines contributing on the scoresheet.

In Game 5 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks scored the first goal, then fell behind 2-1 before evening things up at 2-2 in the final minute of the second period. The game was up for grabs. But the Jets scored 1:36 into the third period after a shot from the point deflected off Alex DeBrincat’s stick and in, and it turned out to be the game-winning goal.

Look, there are no moral victories at this time of year. An ugly win beats the heck out of a pretty loss.

If the power play doesn't go 0-for-14, we might be having a different discussion because it had a chance to change the complexion of each game except the last one — because, well, there were no penalties called on either side, which was the first time that's happened in an NHL game this season.

But the Blackhawks have no margin for error and they're learning that the hard way.

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks have hole to climb out of after road trip

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USA TODAY

3 Takeaways: Blackhawks have hole to climb out of after road trip

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, but the Blackhawks lost 3-2 to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday to close out their five-game road trip. Here are three takeaways:

Bad trip

After losing in Winnipeg, the Blackhawks finished their five-game road trip with a 1-4-0 record. They began the trip last Sunday in Winnipeg with a 5-2 loss. 

Sunday's game against the Jets had flashes of good, but it was mostly strong plays from the go-to guys like Kane and Jonathan Toews. All three Jets' goals came from deflections off shots from the point. Overall, the effort and productivity paled in comparison to the lone victory of the trip, Saturday's 8-4 win over the Flames in Calgary on Saturday. 

The Blackhawks, six points out of the second wild card spot, will return home and face the New York Rangers at the United Center on Wednesday. They have 23 regular season games remaining. 

Kane keeps climbing 

With a two-point outing in Winnipeg, Kane tied former Blackhawk Steve Larmer for 87th on the NHL all-time points list with 1,012. 

"Showtime" set up Ryan Carpenter for the first goal of the game at 15:44 of the first period by backhanding a pass towards the front of the net for the crashing Carpenter to bury.

Kane scored with less than a minute remaining in the second period to tie it 2-2 off a three-way passing play with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kubalik. Kane has 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in his past 18 games. 

With the primary assist on Kane's goal, Toews earned his sixth point (two goals, four assists) of the road trip. 

0.0

Sunday's Blackhawks-Jets game was the only NHL contest this season to have zero penalties. This was good news for Toews, who had five minor penalties over the prior four games. 

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