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."

Where could the NHL potentially finish the 2019-20 season?

Where could the NHL potentially finish the 2019-20 season?

Sunday night, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the NHL and NHLPA have begun tossing around ideas for where the league could finish potential regular season or playoff games, if the COVID-19 pause were lifted.

The NHL pause went into effect on March 12 due to concerns with the coronavirus pandemic.

Friedman reported one location discussed was North Dakota. 

"Several sites would be necessary, but Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D., makes sense," he wrote. "Host of the 2005 World Junior Championships, the 2016 World Under-18s and the NCAA’s Fighting Hawks, it is an impressive facility that is definitely more suitable than many other available non-NHL options in the United States."

The NHL and NHLPA are expected to discuss other locations this week per Friedman. 

"The league and players must agree on any return-to-play scenarios," he added. "The players are very concerned about the potential of 35 per cent escrow on future paycheques, and whether or not the NHL will consider allowing that to be paid over multiple years. (CBA discussions are believed to be taking place.)"

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How COVID-19 crisis could impact Blackhawks, NHL's salary cap

How COVID-19 crisis could impact Blackhawks, NHL's salary cap

On March 4, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told general managers that the projected salary cap for the 2020-21 season is expected to be in the range of $84 million and $88.2 million. That's roughly a $2.5 million to $6.7 million increase after it went up only $2 million last season.

But eight days later, the NHL put its season on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's unclear if or when hockey will even resume at this point. Because of the uncertainty and the risk of the league potentially losing $1 billion in hockey-related revenue, there's legitimate concern about what the ceiling could look like after we get through this, and not just for next season.

Could the NHL's salary cap stay the same? Might it even go down to help ease the escrow pain for players? Anything is possible, but it would require both the NHL and NHLPA to come to an agreement on what that artificial number could look like.

If the salary cap remains flat, the Blackhawks would be one of the many teams that would find themselves in an extremely tough position. And they better start preparing for that scenario.

As of right now, the Blackhawks' projected cap hit for next season is $74.1 million, according to Cap Friendly. That number factors in the three players on long-term injured reserve (Calvin de Haan, Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw) but also includes the current players on the roster, which comes out to 26 total, so cuts obviously must be made to get down to the maximum of 23.

But what that number doesn't include is the potential performance bonus overages and the fact the Blackhawks don't have a goaltender signed beyond this season other than Collin Delia, which doesn't leave much room for free agent signings elsewhere. Heck, taking care of their own guys is going to be a major challenge.

The Blackhawks have nine pending restricted free agents, which most notably includes Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome. Corey Crawford is their highest-profile unrestricted free agent. Those are four key pieces the Blackhawks must try to squeeze in under the cap if the priority is to bring all of them back, and — loosely projecting — gives them around $9-10 million to do so.

You have to wonder if it makes more sense for everyone involved to agree on one-year deals and revisit things the following year after more clarity is provided on the NHL's financial situation, especially with Seattle preparing for league entry and the U.S. television deal set to expire after the 2021-22 season.

For now, the Blackhawks and the rest of the NHL are waiting to see what the next steps are. But the financial ramifications will be significant, and it's something every team must now navigate through. 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.