Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Blackhawks survive Maple Leafs push, inch closer to playoff picture

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Blackhawks survive Maple Leafs push, inch closer to playoff picture

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday:

1. Owning the start

"It was a measuring stick game. That's the best team in the league and we didn't come ready to play. They pretty much just slapped us. ... The effort just wasn't there at times. I think in the third period we just quit. That's on us as players, we gotta wake up."

That was Auston Matthews on the effort the Maple Leafs turned in two nights ago against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who handed them a 6-2 loss in their barn. So the Blackhawks were expecting the home team to fly out of the gates.

But it was the road team that actually did, with the Blackhawks scoring four consecutive first-period goals to open the game (and later a fifth in the second period), prompting the boo birds to rain in Toronto for the second straight contest. It was the first time since Jan. 18 and 20 that the Maple Leafs lost back-to-back games in regulation.

2. Surviving the push...

When you score five straight goals, the most dangerous thing you can do is sit on that lead, especially against a high-powered offense like the Maple Leafs, who showed that in their first meeting on Oct. 7 in Chicago. The Blackhawks didn't necessarily take their foot off the gas, but they were certainly preparing for a push back and that's exactly what happened. Particularly in the third period.

Corey Crawford, who stopped 17 of 18 shots in the first two periods, was removed from the game at the start of the third period because of an illness. Collin Delia came on in relief and faced 30 shots in the third period alone, three of which found the back of the net as the Maple Leafs cut their deficit to 5-4. It's the second time this season the Blackhawks have allowed at least 30 shots in a period, with the first coming on Oct. 21 when they gave up 33 in the second period to Tampa Bay.

But the Blackhawks barely hung on to secure the two points. They made it much closer than it needed to be.

3. Breaking down the numbers

Going into Wednesday, the Maple Leafs were, by far, the No. 1-ranked team in even-strength scoring chances for per game at 27.1, according to naturalstattrick.com. The Blackhawks were dead last in even-strength scoring chances allowed per game at 26.2, 11.9 of which have been high-danger chances. And it showed.

The Blackhawks gave up a season-high 95 total shot attempts and 58 scoring chances at even strength to the Maple Leafs, 18 of which were high danger chances. Fifty of the 95 shot attempts and 26 of the 58 even-strength scoring chances came in the third period.

The Blackhawks were outshot 30-12 in the third period after outshooting the Maple Leafs 27-18 in the first two periods. The tides completely turned in the final frame, and fortunately for the Blackhawks, they built a big enough lead to help them survive.

4. Inching closer to playoffs...

Just when you think they're out of it, the Blackhawks find a way to climb back into the playoff race. It happened in February, and it's happening again now in March. 

With the win, the Blackhawks have picked up eight out of a possible eight points in their past four games and have pulled within four points of the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. The three teams they're chasing each have 12 games remaining, just like the Blackhawks, so there's still some ground to be made up.

But they're much closer than they were after the Blackhawks looked dead in the water following their West Coast trip. Can they continue their run into April?

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Blackhawks using first training camp under Jeremy Colliton to nail down defensive zone coverage

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USA Today

Blackhawks using first training camp under Jeremy Colliton to nail down defensive zone coverage

Jeremy Colliton has been the Blackhawks' head coach for more than 10 months now, but this is his first training camp with the team and he's able to instill some concepts that he wasn't able to do on the fly last season. The biggest thing, however, is that he was afforded a full summer to prep and can help get everyone on the same page during training camp and in the seven preseason games before the games actually matter.

"It's important," Duncan Keith said. "Systems nowadays, with the way teams are, it's important that everyone's on the same page. Having a training camp with the coaches and being able to implement the system and try to get on the same page early on, the quicker we can iron out everything the better off we're going to be."

The one area the Blackhawks have focused on heavily over the first two days is the defensive zone coverage. They gave up the most scoring chances and high-danger chances at 5-on-5 last season, and the team got better at it in the final month or so but it's still a work in progress.

"It's going to be huge," Patrick Kane said. "Even [Friday], first day we're running through some defensive coverage trying to get everything done tactically. I'm sure we'll do a little bit more of that each day and some different things as well. It'll be real beneficial for us just to all get on the same page, set the standard around here and feel confident about our team, the way we play going into the season."

The onus isn't just on the defensemen, either. It's a five-man unit and training camp is just as much about building trust with your teammates and being in the right spot as it is nailing down the scheme and letting it become muscle memory.

"We've all got to be on the same page," Brent Seabrook said. "If my D partner's doing it perfectly and I'm not, then we're not going to be any good at it. We've all got to be on the same page, we've all got to be doing our job and doing the right thing and the faster we get to that point, then I think it's just going to help us out in the long run. We're just going to keep getting better at it and we'll go from there."

The Blackhawks are going to continue working on their defensive zone coverage as camp goes along because that’s priority No. 1. Scoring goals won’t be an issue. And after Sunday’s training camp festival at the United Center, the Blackhawks have three consecutive preseason contests to apply what they've learned in a game-type setting.

"I just think getting guys on the same page as quickly as we can, that's really important,” Colliton said. “You saw there was a lot of D-zone work today [Friday]. That'll continue and we'll just sort of roll out how we're going to play day-by-day so that we're ready. We got that festival game, that will kind of be a dress rehearsal and then right into it."

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Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman: Adam Boqvist is 'ready to be a pro'

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman: Adam Boqvist is 'ready to be a pro'

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman hinted at the possibility of this earlier in the summer but he made it official on Friday: Adam Boqvist is turning pro.

Boqvist spent the 2018-19 season with the London Knights in the OHL, where he compiled 60 points (20 goals, 40 assists) in 54 games and led all defensemen with 10 goals in 11 postseason contests. He made significant strides in his development as he got accustomed to the North American style of hockey and the Blackhawks are ready to bring him over to the organization.

“I think Adam's made enough progress," Bowman said. "The biggest thing with him was always just the physicality and the strength and I thought he put in a lot of work. I got to give him credit, especially this summer, even last year during the season. But he still has to continue to mature and develop physically but he's ready to be a pro.”

If Boqvist doesn’t make the Blackhawks out of training camp, he will start the season with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL. Not only will the team be able to have more of a hands-on role in his development, but they’ll now be able to call him up at any moment.

"I think the drawback to going back to junior is you don't have the access to him then for the whole season,” Bowman said. “So he's a player we're going to want to have access to whether he's in Chicago or nearby in Rockford."

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