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Four takeaways: Blackhawks play spoiler against Blues again

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Blackhawks play spoiler against Blues again

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Wednesday:

1. Spoiler again

The Blackhawks last season didn't have much to play for down the stretch. But they had two matchups against the Blues, who were in the thick of a playoff race, and they played spoiler.

The Blues missed out on the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference by one point, and you can look at the April 4 game vs. Chicago as the one that got away. Duncan Keith scored the game-winning goal with 8.5 seconds left in regulation to prevent the Blues from picking up at least a point and possibly a second.

The Blues tried doing their part to get revenge on the Blackhawks by rallying from two goals down to tie it with 38.9 seconds left. But the Blackhawks got the important second point to keep the Blues in the third position of the Central Division with two games remaining.

"All of these next few games here we're playing big division games against good teams," Brandon Saad said. "It's a good challenge for us regardless if we're eliminated or not. Kind of a character win and finish out the season the right way."

2. Hitting career marks

Even though the Blackhawks were eliminated from playoff contention on Tuesday night, that won't stop them from trying to finish out the season strong.

After opening the scoring in the first period, Jonathan Toews established a new career high in goals (35). Patrick Kane recorded the primary assist and later ended a 10-game goal drought with a goal to also set a new a career high in points (107).

Alex DeBrincat, Kane and Toews became the first Blackhawks 35-goal trio since the 1987-88 season — Steve Larmer (41), Denis Savard (44), Rick Vaive (43), according to NBC Sports Chicago's stats guru Christopher Kamka. That's the one big bright spot of the season.

"They're great players, but I probably knew that," coach Jeremy Colliton said of Kane and Toews. "Just they compete hard. They love to play, they love to win, they want to be the guys counted on in big situations and those are the kinds of guys you want to coach. Every night there's countless plays that you feel pretty happy to have them on your bench."

3. Playing for pride

The Blackhawks won't be participating in the playoffs for the second straight season. They're frustrated and disappointed about that. But it's still a prideful group that won't just lie down in the final week.

It's easy to lose sight of the big picture after being so accustomed to winning and coming up short of the ultimate goal, but Kane tried putting the final few games into perspective and what they're playing for.

"We're playing in the NHL, we're playing hockey," Kane said. "As a kid you dreamed of playing in the league and being an NHL hockey player, so don't think about the big picture right now, just enjoy the game, play hard, try to put forth a good performance. Show the fans we appreciate them coming out and try to get a couple wins."

4. From Frozen Four to NHL debut

The first time Dennis Gilbert skated on the United Center ice, he was participating in the 2017 Frozen Four with Notre Dame as a Blackhawks defenseman prospect. His team fell short of the national championship game, but Denver coach Jim Montgomery — now head coach of the Dallas Stars — said following a 6-1 win that sophomore Gilbert was the best blue liner on the Fighting Irish.

That was on April 6. Two years later and Gilbert found himself back on the same ice surface making his NHL debut for the Blackhawks.

"About two years ago now to the day," Gilbert said. "Hopefully I can take my time, look back on that a little bit. It was a pretty full barn that night. I'm sure it'll be a little more loud, a little more nerve-wracking tonight. It's always cool to play on that ice."

Gilbert was partnered with Connor Murphy on the third pairing in his debut. He had a game-high six hits and one blocked shot in 12:46 of ice time.

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Erik Gustafsson is back to looking like player he was last season for Blackhawks

Erik Gustafsson is back to looking like player he was last season for Blackhawks

Less than three weeks ago, Erik Gustafsson fell out of the rotation for the Blackhawks. The offensive production wasn’t there and the defensive part of his game was trending in the wrong direction.

Since being healthy scratched on Nov. 2 against Los Angeles, Gustafsson has looked like a different player. He’s starting to resemble the impact-type player he was last season when he became one of six NHL defensemen to finish with at least 60 points.

And it’s because he’s getting back to his roots.

“I don’t know how, from a scratch, my confidence can get up so fast but I feel like myself a little bit more now,” Gustafsson told NBC Sports Chicago. “I got a video guy that I worked with last year and working with him right now and went back and looked at those videos a couple days ago and it's just a whole other player from last year and now. I just wanted to come back to that moment. I felt like I was having fun out there and not thinking too much.

“I think my defensive part is better than last year but I just want to get back to when I have the puck and I've felt pretty good now the past four games, so let's keep it going."

Gustafsson said that after morning skate on Wednesday. He followed it up by scoring his first goal of the season later that night in a 5-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, roofing a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to end a 16-game goal drought.

“He just looks much more confident with the puck,” head coach Jeremy Colliton said. “He’s cleaner. He still has a couple turnovers here and there but he’s going to turn it over every once in a while. We just want him to try to be as clean as he can and situationally manage when he’s going to try and do those things.”

It helps that Gustafsson is back to earning top minutes, which he admitted is beneficial because if he has a bad shift he doesn’t have to dwell on it too long. But Colliton is trying walk the line of giving Gustafsson enough rope to make mistakes while also holding him responsible for his play.

“It’s a balance,” Colliton said. “Because you’ve got to earn the minutes you get and if you’re not doing the job then your minutes will go down. But at the same time, I don’t believe that if you make one mistake you should get the hook. That’s a tough way to play when you’re always worried if I make one mistake, you’re going to be punished for it or whatever it may be. So as a coach, that’s the balance, the line we walk to try to get the most out of every player but also make sure there’s accountability.”

Earlier in the season, Gustafsson was consumed by trying to develop a defense-first mentality without taking away from his offensive instincts. Now he’s gotten back to focusing on the strengths of his game rather than the weaknesses, and it’s allowed him to play looser. 

"I think it was a lot of parts like moving my feet, skating,” Gustafsson said of what he noticed during video sessions of his play last season vs. this season. “It's a big part about my game, too. I have to skate a lot. Last year when I got a guy on me I just faked going one side and went to the other side and just skated and tried to find that open lane to pass it. And I think at the start of this season I just wanted to get rid of the puck right away. I don't know if it's just confidence or something, but I think I’m moving my feet much better now than I did my first 10 games."

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With Connor Murphy set to return, Blackhawks reassign Adam Boqvist to Rockford

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USA TODAY

With Connor Murphy set to return, Blackhawks reassign Adam Boqvist to Rockford

The Blackhawks announced Thursday morning that they have reassigned top defenseman prospect Adam Boqvist to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

The 19-year-old Swedish defenseman appeared in six games for the Blackhawks and averaged 14:27 of ice time. He scored his first career NHL goal in his second appearance in a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 2.

But with Connor Murphy (groin) eligible to come off long-term injured reserve on Saturday, the Blackhawks had to make a corresponding move to become cap compliant and Boqvist was the obvious candidate to be sent back down.

He’s still in the early stages of his development, but Boqvist certainly held his own at the NHL level during his brief stint. The Blackhawks want him to continue playing top pairing minutes and in all situations, and it would’ve been difficult for him to do that in Chicago with Murphy returning to the lineup.

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