Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Blackhawks keep playoff hopes alive with offensive explosion

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks keep playoff hopes alive with offensive explosion

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 7-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Monday:

1. A complete victory

All season long the Blackhawks have preached playing a full 60 minutes. They'll often go through stretches where they look great, but somewhere in between there's usually a time where their play tails off and the complete effort isn't there. That wasn't the case on Monday.

From top to bottom, the Blackhawks played one their most complete games of the season and it came at a time where their backs are against the wall. They led in shot attempts (50-39), shots on goal (34-25), 5-on-5 scoring chances (25-10) and 5-on-5 high danger chances (14-4), according to naturalstattrick.com

"We haven’t been great at home as of late, so for us to be able to buckle down again and score some goals, I know everyone’s feeling good about ourselves," Brandon Saad said. "We’ve got a tough road trip and we look forward to the challenge ahead of us."

2. Brendan Perlini and a four-line rotation

The Blackhawks shook up their lines after they returned to Chicago from a three-game West Coast trip because they weren't satisfied with the balance they were getting. But Monday was exactly what they were looking for, and easily their best four-line rotation of the season.

All 12 forwards got on the scoresheet except for Dylan Sikura, who's still looking for his first NHL goal — although he did feed Jonathan Toews a stretch pass that led to his penalty shot goal. Perlini led the way with his first career NHL hat trick against his former team for his sixth goal in five games while Chris Kunitz, Patrick Kane, Saad and Toews each found the back of the net. All four lines scored, so there's not much more you can ask for.

"It’s obviously great," Perlini said. "I just wanted to get the win in general, but to do that was awesome. I’ll never forget that one. ... I had enough breakaways. God. And then I wait until the last second to do it. I think just keeping the fans on the edge of their seat."

3. Defense shuts it down again

Going into Saturday, the Blackhawks hadn't allowed one goal or fewer since Dec. 21. Two days later and they've done it in back-to-back games.

The Blackhawks gave up only 25 shots on goal, which is tied for their second-fewest of the season. And you could make a case it should've been a shutout with Arizona's lone goal assisted by the referee after a pass along the boards fell right into the lap of the Coyotes.

"I think we’re doing a much better job of sorting defensively," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "There’s much less scrambly, we’re patient, protect the middle of the ice, get pressure on the puck and then we’re out and creating offense off that. Hopefully we can continue."

Corey Crawford was solid again, although he didn't have to make many high quality saves. He's now stopped 50 of 52 shots in his past two contests for a save percentage of .962. 

"He’s our anchor," Saad said. "He’s incredible. He comes back, doesn’t miss a beat, creating offense out there, too. It’s pretty good to have him back. He’s been great and I know we all feel confident with him in the net."

4. Making history

The Blackhawks made history on Monday. For the first time since the 2000-01 season when Tony Amonte, Eric Daze and Steve Sullivan accomplished the feat, they have three 30-goal scorers in one season: Kane (41), DeBrincat (37) and Toews (30). The Blackhawks didn't have a single 30-goal scorer last season, with DeBrincat leading the way at 28 goals.

With 13 games to go, it's possible for the Blackhawks to get to four 30-goal scorers. Saad tallied his 22nd goal of the season and is eight away from hitting that mark. His career high is 31, set during the 2015-16 season in Columbus.

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks lose ground in wildcard race with regulation loss to Avalanche

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks lose ground in wildcard race with regulation loss to Avalanche

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Saturday:

1. Losing ground

It's been well-documented much this weekend means for the Blackhawks. It could basically make or break their playoff chances with exactly two weeks left. They even got a break when they found out during warmups that Colorado's second-leading point getter Mikko Rantanen would miss the game due to an undisclosed injury, joining captain Gabriel Landeskog on the sidelines.

But the Avalanche seemed to elevate their intensity because of it. Just like their last meeting against Colorado, the Blackhawks failed to hold a lead at any point in the game and were forced to play catch-up in the third period when they fell behind two goals.

With the regulation loss, the Blackhawks fell six points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference with only a game in hand. It didn't help that Arizona picked up a point, either. Time is running out.

2. Lack of power play success reason for offensive drought

The power play was one of the main reasons why the Blackhawks turned their season around at the end of December. It was converting at a 40 percent clip for months. Obviously, that was going to be unsustainable over the course of a full season.

But it has completely dried up over the last several weeks, and it's the primary reason why the offense hasn't been firing on all cylinders as of late.

The Blackhawks had three power-play opportunities against Colorado. They recorded 12 shot attempts, six shots on goal and generated four scoring chances but couldn't find the back of the net. They're now 1-for-25 on the power play in their last 11 games. The 5-on-5 success is there, but the 5-on-4 isn't.

The Blackhawks have scored only seven goals in their past four games, which comes out to 1.75 per game. That's not going to cut it.

3. Not taking advantage of defensive improvement

It really is a shame that the Blackhawks are hitting a scoring drought at the worst possible time. Because there's noticeably been a defensive improvement over the last week. It's their best stretch in a while.

Over the last three games, the Blackhawks have allowed 20 total high-danger chances at 5-on-5, according to naturalstattrick.com, for an average of 6.7 per game. They had given up double-digit high-danger chances in 13 of their previous 17 games, including consecutive games where they allowed 20 to Montreal and 15 to Toronto.

Their season average in that department before Monday was 11.5. So they've shaved off nearly five full high quality scoring chances per game in this mini stretch. That's a huge improvement. But they haven't had much to show for it, recording one out of a possible six points.

4. Turning the page fast

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, they won't have too much time to sulk on this regulation loss. The two Central Division foes will go right back at it on Sunday night at the United Center. And that's truly a must-win game for the Blackhawks. It's why they should start Corey Crawford on back-to-back days for the first time since November 2017.

Another regulation loss would put the Blackhawks eight points back with seven games left, and it would only be a matter of time before they're mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

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'It can go one of two ways': Blackhawks mindset going into home-and-home series with Avalanche

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USA TODAY

'It can go one of two ways': Blackhawks mindset going into home-and-home series with Avalanche

The last time the Blackhawks and Avalanche met, it was viewed as the most important regular season game to date for the Blackhawks because it was a chance to finally pull inside the playoff picture and push the Avalanche out of it. That was Feb. 22.

Fast forward one month and the Blackhawks are approaching a home-and-home weekend series with the Avalanche, who are currently sitting in the second wildcard spot with 78 points. The Blackhawks are at 74 with a game in hand. They have an opportunity to make things real interesting with exactly two weeks left in the season.

“It can go one of two ways,” Jonathan Toews said. “So obviously we want to play our best hockey and make sure we’re in control of who gets the points in these next two.”

The Blackhawks were encouraged with how they played in that Feb. 22 against Colorado. They led in shot attempts (73-47), shots on goal (44-31), scoring chances (40-23) and high-danger chances (20-13), according to naturalstattrick.com, except the category that mattered most and that's the scoreboard (5-3 loss).

"It's one of our better efforts of the year," coach Jeremy Colliton said after the game. "Sometimes the results don't go your way, but the challenge is to reproduce [at] that level and I think if we do, we'll get our fair share of points."

The Blackhawks are hoping a similar performance will lead to the desire result this time around. These are a pair of four-point swings that mean so much at this time of year. Colliton even acknowledged on Friday that Corey Crawford could start in both games, which would be his first back-to-back action since Nov. 4 and 5 in 2017.

The Avalanche have won three in a row, and have outscored their opponents 9-2 in that span. They're coming in hot. The Blackhawks have scored only five goals in their past three games, so they're looking to end that offensive dry spell.

The good news? The Blackhawks are 8-3-0 in their last 11 road games and have a plus-6 goal differential over that stretch. They clearly have been feeling more comfortable on the road as of late. And maybe it'll help set the tone in an all-important series.

"We’re OK with a track meet, but on our terms," Colliton said. "We want to be the one with the puck and catching them before they’re ready to defend. But they’ve got some good players and we’ve gotta be aware of them when they’re on the ice and try to keep the puck out of their hands. Hopefully — we’re coming off a loss and we know the stakes here — we’ll be really good tomorrow.”

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