Blackhawks

Central Casting: Can Blackhawks play the role of playoff team?

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USA TODAY

Central Casting: Can Blackhawks play the role of playoff team?

If the Blackhawks are going to end their postseason drought next season, they are going to have to jump over at least one of the five Central Division foes who qualified for this year’s postseason.

Of course, there is no guarantee the Central will get five teams in next year’s tournament, but let’s look at each club and identify teams that could take a step back next season.

Nashville

Ever since the Predators swept the Blackhawks and lost to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final, they have continued to regress each year in their attempts to hoist the Cup.

Last year, they lost to Winnipeg in Game 7 of the second round. This postseason, Dallas ousted Nashville in the first round.

The Predators appear to be at a Cup crossroads. They need to find more scoring than just the JOFA line. Do they need to move P.K. Subban to acquire scoring depth?

They also had the worst power play in the league and 36-year-old goalie Pekka Rinne had a sub-par .905 save percentage in the playoffs.

Expect a busy offseason in the Music City as the Predators look to stay in the upper tier of the Central.

Cup contender trending: Down

Winnipeg 

Did the Jets run into a team of destiny in the Blues? Or did the opening round loss highlight some areas of concern for Winnipeg?

The Jets season in many ways was the exact opposite of the Blues. Winnipeg started strong and was just average in the second half of the season.

The Jets have seven players that will become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, including Kevin Hayes. They also have six restricted free agents on their roster, which includes Patrik Laine and Jacob Trouba.

The Jets have had a rocky relationship with Trouba and are expected to trade the 25-year-old defenseman. Connor Hellebuyck’s production dropped off a bit from 2018 when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.

The Jets have a great power play and three lines that can score. A couple of roster tweaks could help this young team take the next step.

Cup contender trending: Even

St. Louis

From last place in the entire league on Jan. 2 to being one of the final four teams standing in pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Craig Berube pushed all the right buttons when he took over last November. The Blues commitment to defense was highlighted by finally finding what appears to be a franchise goalie in Jordan Binnington.

The Blues are strong down the middle with centers Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak.

The Blues' key players are under contract next season. So, other than finding a new anthem to replace “Gloria” the Blues could be a major roadblock in the Blackhawks climb up the Central standings.

Cup contender trending: Up

Dallas

Another first-year coach in the Central, Jim Montgomery saw his team improve dramatically, as they fell just one goal short of reaching the Western Conference Final.

The Stars have a tremendous 1-2 punch in net with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin.  

They have solid special teams with players like Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg putting up monster numbers.

They also saw young players like Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz make an impact on the scoresheet.

The Stars spent a second-round pick on Mats Zuccarello. Will the Stars have enough cap room to sign Zuccarello when he becomes a UFA this summer?

Cup contender trending: Even

Colorado

The Avalanche punched the final postseason ticket in the West and rode it all the way to Game 7 of the second round.

Luck was on the side of the Blackhawks during the draft lottery, but that wasn’t the case for Colorado. They had the best odds for the No. 1 overall pick and ended up with the fourth overall selection.

The Blackhawks won’t have to deal with Jack Hughes in an Avs sweater, but they will have to worry about blue line phenom Cale Makar for the foreseeable future.

The Avalanche had the most dangerous line in hockey for much of the season with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

They are a young, fast team with a steady netminder in Philipp Grubauer. They will see Colin Wilson become a UFA on July 1.

Colorado may end up being the elite team in the Central for years to come.

Cup contender trending: Up

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks beat Wild 5-3

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USA Today

3 Takeaways: Blackhawks beat Wild 5-3

The Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 5-3 on Sunday. Here are three takeaways:

Showtime, Showtime, Showtime

No one thought much of Patrick Kane's wraparound attempt at 7:42 of the first period after the Minnesota Wild's Kaapo Kahkonen seemingly denied him with his left pad. However, the United Center crowd went crazy when they saw the replay of the attempt on the jumbotron. After a video review officials determined the puck completely crossed the goal line and the Hawks were up 1-0 on Kane's second goal in two games. 

Kane scored his second goal of the game, putting the Hawks up 2-0 at 11:33 of the first, scoring from the slot off a give-and-go with Jonathan Toews on Chicago's first power play of the game. 

Kane scored into the Wild's empty net to put the Hawks up 5-3 at 18:57 of the third period for the final score, his 18th goal and sixth career regular-season hat trick.

"We needed it," Kane said of the win. "You know we had a good start; kind of gave up the lead again. But overall we didn't give up too many chances (and) we gave up less shots, which is good. I still think we can improve and get better. Overall probably a step in the right direction."

Better effort

After losing four straight games - including Saturday's 4-3 contest in St. Louis - and being outscored 14-6 in their past three, the Hawks played much better on Sunday vs. Wild. Brandon Saad defected in the game-winning goal, his third in two games, at 13:43 of the third period to make it 4-3 Hawks. 

"Yeah, it’s a little puck luck," Saad said. "I think last night you get a lucky one and feel good and then tonight you just get a bounce off a deflection and that's what it takes sometimes getting to the dirty areas."

The red-hot Wild had gone 10-1-4 in their past 15 games heading into Chicago and were two points shy of a wild card spot ahead of Sunday's game.

"Right from the start I thought we were engaged and doing a lot of little things right," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Our puck management was good, we were playing with speed and that allowed us to get off to a pretty good start. Obviously, a couple big goals. It was nice to see the puck in the net and we were able to play from ahead. We were under control." 

Blew more leads

The Hawks coughed up two leads in Sunday's game. The first came after Kevin Fiala scored to make it 2-2 at 1:59 of the second period for Minnesota after Chicago led 2-0 following Kane's second goal of the game at 11:33 of the first. It was the fourth time in seven games Chicago blew a multi-goal lead. Eric Staal scored the Wild's first goal at 12:37 of the first. 

The Blackhawks were also leading 3-2 in the second period off a goal from David Kampf at 8:13, when Fiala scored again to tie it 3-3. 

Unlike on Saturday, when the Hawks allowed four third period goals from St. Louis, Chicago was able to regain the lead when it counted and finish the game victorious. 

It's time for Blackhawks to develop Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist

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USA Today

It's time for Blackhawks to develop Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist

It's no secret things are rough for the Blackhawks, who are 12-15-6, right now. They've lost four straight games, been outscored 14-6 in their past three and are last place in the Central Division.

The team reached a new low after blowing a third period three-goal lead in St. Louis Saturday night and falling 4-3 in regulation to the Blues. A brutal turnover in the Hawks' defensive zone from Alex Nylander gave St. Louis their first goal of the game and all the momentum they needed to win. Nylander didn't miss a shift after.

"Okay, that was a mistake," Hawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said of Nylander's egregious error after the game. "But there was a mistake on the entry, there was a mistake on the coverage where we double up. 

"If we bench everyone who makes a mistake, we're not going to have any players. So yeah, there's a time and place for that no question, but I think that the real issue is that up and down the lineup we don't do the right things all the time every shift. And again, until that changes, it's hard to win."

If the team's play has reached a level where they're doing the wrong things so consistently that an individual can't be punished with missing a shift, then you might as well throw center Kirby Dach and defenseman Adam Boqvist some more responsibility. 

Saturday we learned Dach, 18, would be sticking with the Hawks and not playing in the World Junior Championships and Sunday we learned the same about Boqvist, 19.

Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and Boqvist, selected No. 8 overall in the 2018 draft, have the highest ceilings of all the Hawks' youngsters and look to be the biggest pieces of the franchise's future moving forward. 

The Hawks made the decision to burn the first year of Dach's contract earlier this season. If Boqvist plays Sunday night, it'll be his 10th game with Chicago this year, meaning the first year of his contract will be burnt as well. Seeing as he's still with the club and not headed to World Juniors, it's likely to happen sooner rather than later.

As the team struggles, why not see what Dach, a big two-way center can do and give him the reps and situational experience to improve. Have him play 16-17 minutes a night instead of the 13:03 he logged in St. Louis Saturday. The rookie already has five goals and five assists with limited ice time, but what could he have playing with guys like Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews if he got more reps as a top-six forward. He could learn a lot from them as well. 

Since the D seems to struggle shift to shift as it is, why not let Boqvist, a puck-moving defenseman with a great shot, hold onto it more and let it rip? 

Defenseman Dennis Gilbert, who's only played in 10 games for Chicago the past two seasons, logged 19:03 of ice time in St. Louis to Boqvist's 14:56. Boqvist needs to be out there more. He needs to spend time quarterbacking every power play as he's expected to do for years to come in a Hawks sweater.

Let the kids play. Up their ice time, give them more minutes and let them see tough matchups. At this point, I can't imagine it can hurt the Hawks more than they're already hurting. Building Dach and Boqvist's skillset, comfort and confidence now is building a better future for the Blackhawks. 

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