Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Blackhawks live to fight another day with shootout win over Sabres

Four takeaways: Blackhawks live to fight another day with shootout win over Sabres

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-4 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Live to fight another day

It wasn't pretty. The Blackhawks went up 2-0, then down 3-2, then tied it at 3-3, went back down 4-3 in the third period and eventually tied it back up at 4-4 before sealing the victory in a shootout. But they'll take it.

Every game feels like a do or die at this point, and even though they didn't gain any ground in whatever's left of their playoff race, the Blackhawks are happy that they lived to fight another day.

"Two points for the team, keeps us in it," Patrick Kane said. "We knew it was kind of a must win tonight. We get the two points, we know we can be better and get some confidence going into Dallas."

2. Balance evident under new lines

The Blackhawks rolled out a new set of lines on Thursday. The goal was to even out the ice time and find more balance in the lineup with Drake Caggiula (concussion) out. It's fair to say they got what they were looking for. 

Artem Anisimov scored twice for the first time all season, Brendan Perlini notched his third goal in as many games after scoring only three goals in his first 29 games with the Blackhawks and even Duncan Keith chipped in for his fourth goal of the season to double last year's total. Plus, only one player logged fewer than 10 minutes of ice time and that was John Hayden, who started the game on the first line.

That's the kind of secondary scoring and minutes distribution the Blackhawks have been looking for all season, which helps alleviate the pressure from the top guys.

"I think we did some good things," coach Jeremy Colliton said of the new lines. "I really liked the checking line, [David Kampf's] line. They were great. They went head to head with [Jack] Eichel all night. We looked pretty under control throughout the whole game. I think that's been an issue for us lately playing against top competition. That's been hurting us. If we can get that sorted out then we got the horses on the other lines to come through."

3. Special teams woes

The Blackhawks made it a priority to work on their penalty kill during Wednesday's practice. They're last in the league in that department, and have been for a while now.

But the power play hasn't been as effective as of late. Converting at a 40 percent clip was never going to be sustainable, but the real concern is that they've allowed three shorthanded goals in their last six games and have scored only four while on the power play for a plus-1 differential.

The Blackhawks went 0-for-5 on the power play against the Sabres, and allowed a shorthanded goal. They're in a little bit of a weird rut right now.

"Tonight I just think we were a little bit late to react to get back and then just kind of a sorting situation where there was a little bit of confusion," Colliton said. "And then obviously the guy made a good play but he was there by himself. We were a little bit out of sync tonight on the power play. We still had some good looks, we didn't convert. That was a tough one to give up."

4. Patrick Kane back on track

After being held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games and three of the last four contests, Kane bounced back in a nice way. He registered a pair of assists for his 27th multi-point outing of the season, and surpassed Steve Larmer for fourth on the Blackhawks all-time points list with 924 — only Stan Mikita (1,467), Bobby Hull (1,153) and Denis Savard (1,096) have more.

Kane now has 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 17 career games against his hometown Sabres, six of which have come in their two meetings this season. And it was fitting that it came on a day where he skated in his 888th career NHL game.

"It's special," Kane said of his latest achievement. "Larmer was a great player, probably should be in the Hall of Fame. Obviously had a great career here with the Blackhawks and one of those guys who played the game the right way. To get by him is pretty special. Just keep trucking along here, hopefully rack up some more points as my career goes on. More importantly tonight, you know got the two points to keep us in the race and gets confidence from that."

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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