Blackhawks

Blackhawks show they're serious about making noise as No. 12 seed

Blackhawks show they're serious about making noise as No. 12 seed

The Blackhawks know they were handed a gift when the NHL included them in the 24-team Return to Play tournament, sneaking in as the No. 12 seed in the Western Conference despite having a 2.6 percent chance of making the playoffs prior to the pause.

But they won't apologize for it. They're here and ready to take advantage of this opportunity after missing out on the postseason in back-to-back years.

"We're excited to show that we belong and we could make some noise as an underdog," Duncan Keith said during training camp.

The Blackhawks put their words into action on Saturday, routing the Edmonton Oilers 6-4 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Don't let the final score fool you. It was a one-sided game from start to finish.

"It feels good," said Jonathan Toews, who scored twice and added an assist to surpass Steve Larmer for fifth in franchise history with 113 playoff points. "We snuck in, got that last spot. Obviously it's a qualifier, but you get one win under your belt and it's a good feeling. It gives you that confidence there's no telling how far you can go. It's playoff hockey, anything can happen. It's good to be back, kind of get that monkey off our back."

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The Blackhawks led in just about every statistical category, including shot attempts (70-51), shots on goal (43-29), 5-on-5 scoring chances (22-16) and offensive zone possession time (7:15-6:49), according to Sportlogiq. They gave up the first goal 2:34 into the opening period but responded with four unanswered in a span of 7:06 and chased goaltender Mike Smith in the second period.

Dominik Kubalik, most notably, set a record for most points by an NHL rookie in his playoff debut with five (two goals, three assists) while the power play scored three times, which is something it did only once in a game all season long.

The Blackhawks came out with more urgency, confidence and, quite frankly, played a dominant all-around 60-minute game than the Oilers, who scored all four of their goals with the man advantage. 

"We weren't good enough," said Connor McDavid, who had a three-point effort. "In every facet. Simple as that."

Teams that win Game 1 of a Stanley Cup playoff series have gone on to advance 69.6 percent of the time. But this is a five-game series, not a traditional seven, which makes Saturday's win even more important.

And the Blackhawks know they can't take their foot off the gas pedal.

"Edmonton is going to be very desperate on Monday," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We expect them to get better and we're going to have to match it."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: SportsTalk Live says farewell

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: SportsTalk Live says farewell

David Haugh, Jesse Rogers and Mark Potash join David Kaplan on the final episode of SportsTalk Live.

They talk the Blackhawks-Oilers series and what comes next, Luis Robert's chances at MVP, and Cubs chances at the championship.

Plus, David Kaplan says farewell to SportsTalk Live after the show was on the air for over 16 years.

Listen here or below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach emerging as star and living up to 'playoff performer' hype

Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach emerging as star and living up to 'playoff performer' hype

Ask anyone in Chicago who the standout of training camp 2.0 was and you'll hear one name: Kirby Dach.

“He has all the potential in the world,” Patrick Kane said. “He can be a top player in the league.”

“He’s got the potential to be a great player in this league and a great player for the Blackhawks for a long time," echoed Brent Seabrook.

Upon hearing this enormous praise from a pair of three-time Stanley Cup champions and joining the hype train myself, I couldn’t help but think: Are we putting unfair expectations on a kid who’s still only 19?

The answer: Nope. Because he can handle it.

Dach looks like a completely different player after finally having an “offseason” to recharge, both mentally and physically. And it’s showing in the postseason.

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Through three games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, Dach has four points — all assists — and a team-best plus-4 rating; in total, he’s been on the ice for eight of the Blackhawks’ 13 goals so far. He became the first Blackhawks rookie to register at least one point in his first three postseason games since Eddie Olczyk in 1985. 

All those numbers are great, but here’s the eye-opener: Dach is averaging 20:21 of ice time in the postseason, which trails only Patrick Kane (22:21) among team forwards. He led all Blackhawks forwards with 23:21 of ice time in Wednesday’s Game 3 comeback win over the Edmonton Oilers, which was, by far, a career high for Dach, who averaged 14:16 of ice time during the regular season.

The Blackhawks are giving him an enormous amount of responsibility, whether it's top-six minutes at even strength, power-play time on the first unit and penalty kill reps. And Dach is handling it about as well as you could ask for.

"He loves responsibility and he thrives on it," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We knew, based on how he looked in training camp, that he was ready to take a bigger role here. He's been great. He's been as advertised."

Dach isn't just making an impact on the scoresheet, either. He's doing the little things right, too.

Olli Maatta scored the first goal in Game 3 after his shot from the point got past Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen, but that puck doesn't go in without the 6-foot-4, 197-pound Dach wreaking havoc in front of the net. Those plays don't go unnoticed inside the locker room.

"It shows that the coach trusts in your abilities to get a job done," Dach said of the added responsibility. "And as a player, it's a welcoming challenge. You want to be put in those situations and succeed in them."

One of the main reasons why the Blackhawks selected Dach third overall in 2019 was because of the way he elevated his game in the Western Hockey League playoffs. He was the engine for the Saskatoon Blades and the focal point for opponents yet thrived off the attention.

“He does all the things that can wow you, but then he does the other stuff, too," GM Stan Bowman said the day the Blackhawks drafted Dach. "He was great at stripping pucks, he was great at backchecking, he was great at the physical play when the series got pretty intense in the playoffs and it was clear they were targeting him. He not only took it, he gave it back. It was impressive to see him raise his game at a time of year when it matters most, which is playoff hockey.

"You watch the NHL playoffs and you see how intense it can be and then you look at the way he plays, and you can see that that game translates."

It sure does.

Whether he can be a big-time point producer in the NHL remains to be seen, but it's clear Dach is the kind of player whose game is better suited for the playoffs than the regular season. And we're seeing why.