Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Blackhawks leave Cam Ward out to dry

Four takeaways: Blackhawks leave Cam Ward out to dry

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday night:

1. Cam Ward left out to dry

The Blackhawks had a three-day break following a three-games-in-four-days stretch to open the year and one of the things they stressed during that additional practice time was tightening things up defensively. They allowed 34 high-danger scoring chances (28 at 5-on-5) through the first three games and Ward had a .647 save percentage on those shots. But limiting those is more important than Ward trying to bail out his teammates.

The Blackhawks gave up eight high-danger scoring chances in the first period alone and Ward stopped all of them, which was an encouraging sign. He was in a great rhythm and stood on his head all night.

In total, the Blackhawks gave up 23 high-danger scoring chances (which is 11 fewer than they gave up through the first three games combined), 37 scoring chances in all situations and a season-high 46 shots on goal. That's way too much to overcome for any goaltender.

2. Top line stays hot

The Blackhawks continued to get contributions from their top line and it didn't take long for them to get going. Jonathan Toews connected with Alex DeBrincat 10:07 into the game to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead and on the very next shift, Dominik Kahun scored his first career NHL goal on a beautiful snipe that was assisted by DeBrincat and Toews.

It's the third multi-point game of the season for Toews and second for DeBrincat, both of whom have started the campaign with four-game point streaks. Kahun also has one goal and two assists in his past two games.

The trio was the only line to finish with positive possession numbers in a game that Minnesota dominated in that department, recording 69 shot attempts to the Blackhawks' 46 at even strength.

This is exactly the production the Blackhawks had envisioned from their first line this season, even though they're doing the majority of the heavy lifting. At some point it's going to cool off and the Blackhawks going to need depth scoring, but they're setting the tone early on.

3. Power play is finally on the board, but allows crucial shorthanded goal late

After starting the season 0-for-10, the Blackhawks changed up their personnel heading into Minnesota and finally cashed in on their fourth power play opportunity of the night to snap their drought. DeBrincat was moved to the high slot on the first unit and that's exactly where he potted his second goal of the game, off a feed from Patrick Kane.

But the killer happened in the final minute of regulation. The Blackhawks were up 4-3 and had a man advantage, but allowed a shorthanded goal with 23.0 seconds left that essentially forced overtime for the fourth straight game. Jason Zucker, who had a game-high 10 shots on goal, scored his second of the game for the winner.

While the Blackhawks certainly have to be happy about picking up another point, it's difficult to swallow when you realize it was essentially a three-point swing in the end against a Central Division opponent and these are the games you look back at at the end of the season as ones that got away.

4. Alexandre Fortin stands out in NHL debut

With Andreas Martinsen (back injury) out of the lineup, Fortin was called up from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League and was rewarded for his solid training camp by getting thrown into the fire right away. He skated on the third line with Artem Anisimov and Chris Kunitz, and was noticeable early on.

On his first shift, Fortin recorded two shot attempts (one blocked, one missed) and a takeaway in 53 seconds. Later on in the second period he generated a late scoring chance but was denied by Devan Dubnyk.

Fortin finished with a team-low 8:49 of ice time and was on the ice for eight shot attempts for and 11 against.

No. 1 overall pick? Blackhawks want crack at Stanley Cup: 'The real fun begins'

No. 1 overall pick? Blackhawks want crack at Stanley Cup: 'The real fun begins'

The Blackhawks had a 2.6 percent chance at making the Stanley Cup Playoffs on March 11. One day later, the NHL put its season on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it remained that way for 142 days.

Unprecedented circumstances gave the Blackhawks new life in a 24-team tournament that included a five-game play-in series, where they snuck in as the No. 12 seed in the Western Conference. They weren't going to apologize for it then and they won't now.

On Friday, the Blackhawks eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in four games to punch their ticket to the dance for the first time since the 2016-17 season. It was their first postseason series win since the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

"Great to end the series," head coach Jeremy Colliton said following a 3-2 win in Game 4. "Obviously it was a big challenge facing an excellent team with as good of players as you're going to find in the league. But really proud of how we competed. We know we can play better, but we found a way to win."

It’s been a tough past few seasons for the Blackhawks, who had set a Stanley Cup or bust standard for a decade. They accomplished that feat three times and reached the Conference Final two others during the dynasty era.

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The Blackhawks heard the outside criticism after missing out on the postseason in back-to-back seasons following a nine-year playoff streak. They just chose not to listen to it.

"There's always going to be maybe unwarranted praise and criticism," Toews said. "I think our core group has done a good job of not listening to either. You miss the playoffs for a couple years, you're bound to have people come down on you a little bit. I don't think any of that's fazed us. We were pretty eager to get this chance and show what we can do.”

The Blackhawks had nothing to lose going into the qualifying round. They weren't expected to make the playoffs had the season ended normally, so a series win would have been a bonus and valuable experience for their younger players. And if they lost, the Blackhawks would've gotten a 12.5 percent chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick, which will now go to the Oilers.

But put that in the rearview mirror, Chicago. The Blackhawks have their eyes on something else.

"The real fun begins,” Toews said. “We worked pretty hard in this series to beat a good team and we're gonna have to dig deep to keep finding better and better the next one.“

More hard-earned goals and a killer PK advance Blackhawks to Round One

More hard-earned goals and a killer PK advance Blackhawks to Round One

The Blackhawks won Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Friday 3-2 to go up in the series 3-1 and eliminate the Oilers in Edmonton. The Hawks will face either the Colorado Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights in Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here are five takeaways:

They're back

The Blackhawks won their first postseason series since 2015's Stanley Cup Final with Game 4's victory over the Oilers in the best-of-five qualifying round.

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews collected his sixth point (four goals, two assists) in the play-in round when he passed Chicago rookie Dominik Kubalik the puck in front of the Oilers' net from below the goal line for Kubalik to make it 3-2 at 8:30 of the third period.

Kubalik finished the qualifying round with six points (three goals, three assists), five of which he bagged in Game 1.

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Matty Highmore, big tipper

Blackhawks forward Matthew Highmore put the Hawks ahead 2-1 at 7:56 of the first period after tipping in a Duncan Keith shot from in front of the net. It was the second straight game Highmore scored off a deflection. In Game 3, he tied the game 3-3 at 14:13 of the third period, deflecting a shot from defenseman Slater Koekkoek past Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen and setting the table for Toews to complete the 4-3 comeback victory with 1:16 remaining in regulation.

Brandon Saad tied it 1-1 off a backhand on a wraparound at 5:16 in the first period of Game 4 before Highmore's marker.

Letting McDavid check in early

One key to Game 4 was not letting Connor McDavid score early in the game like he did earlier in the series. The Hawks accomplished that... kind of. McDavid was able to get in on the offense 45 seconds into Game 4 not by scoring, but by setting up Josh Archibald for the first goal of the game.

McDavid scored 2:34 into Game 1 and 19 seconds into Game 2 but didn't find the back of the net until late in Game 3's second period. McDavid was held to just two shots on goal in Game 4.

Bad penalties

The Blackhawks have known all series that they needed to stay out of the box vs. the Oilers, who had the NHL's best power play in the regular season. The Hawks took five penalties to the Oilers' two, but were able to kill all of them off.

In Game 3, Edmonton couldn't stay out of the box, but the Hawks went just 1-for-6 on the man advantage.

In Game 4, Highmore took a penalty right before the first period buzzer after high-sticking Alex Chiasson. Chicago killed the penalty in the second period, but Ryan-Nugent Hopkins scored two seconds later to tie it 2-2.

Just 30 seconds after RNH's goal, Alex DeBrincat got tagged with a five-minute major penalty for boarding Ethan Bear at 2:32 of the second. While the Hawks were killing the major, Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse took a minor for interfering with Blackhawks forward Drake Caggiula. After Nurse's penalty expired, Chicago only had to kill 41 seconds of the major, which they did.

The Hawks were also forced to kill a penalty at the beginning of the third after Dominik Kubalik slashed Archibald as the clock was winding down in the second. 

Caggiula later received a cross-checking penalty at 4:26 of the third against Andreas Athanasiou for the Blackhawks' fifth infraction of the game. 

Even without having to face McDavid and the Oilers' power play, moving forward against more complete teams, the Hawks will want to stay out of the box. Even if the PK is on like in Game 4, they could lose some much-needed momentum in any given game or series.

Crawford

The remaining teams in the 2020 postseason tournament have been put on notice. Corey Crawford is back to his clutch self. The two-time Stanley Cup champ stopped 43 of 45 Edmonton shots in Game 4's win after allowing 13 goals in the first three games of the series.

Crawford became the 20th goalie in NHL history to record 50 postseason wins after Wednesday's Game 3.