Four takeaways: Blackhawks tighten up on defense to get revenge on Stars

Four takeaways: Blackhawks tighten up on defense to get revenge on Stars

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Saturday:

1. Team defense and revenge

Two weekends ago, the Blackhawks had a prime opportunity to play themselves inside the playoff picture with games against Colorado and Dallas. They outplayed both of them, but didn't get the result.

On Saturday, they did.

The Blackhawks recorded 77 shot attempts (39 on goal) and allowed only 27 shots on goal, including just five in the third period when they were hanging onto a one-goal lead. Corey Crawford stopped all but one of them for a save percentage of .963.

It's only the 10th time this season the Blackhawks held an opponent to 27 shots or fewer in a game. And it was also the first time since Dec. 21 that the Blackhawks held an opponent to one goal or fewer, a span of 30 games. A great team road win.

2. Fourth line turns in another strong performance

Jeremy Colliton liked what the fourth line of David Kampf, Marcus Kruger and Chris Kunitz brought to the table on Thursday in a 5-4 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres. He must've loved what they did two nights later.

The trio connected for the first goal of the game, which was an important one considering the Blackhawks fell behind in their last meeting. Kampf scored a goal, Kunitz had a primary assist, seven shot attempts (a season-high five on goal), two hits and a takeaway while Kruger had a shot on goal and a takeaway. It's exactly what the Blackhawks are looking for out of their fourth line.

3. Secondary scoring starting to come

The Blackhawks have been trying to roll a consistent four-line rotation all season long, but have found themselves relying heavily on their top horses because their bottom-six hasn't been as effective. But they're starting to get it.

In the past four games, here's which Blackhawks have gotten in the goal column: Artem Anisimov (2), Alex DeBrincat, Erik Gustafsson, Kampf, Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Brendan Perlini (3) and Dylan Strome.

That's eight different Blackhawks, three of which are defensemen. You'll notice Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren't on there. The Blackhawks are obviously at their best when they're producing, and now it's about putting it all together and getting contributions from everyone at the same time to see what the ceiling could be.

4. The Cat closing in on 40 goals

After going goalless in his previous three games, DeBrincat got back on the scoresheet for his 37th goal of the season. He's now three goals away from 40 on the season with 14 games left.

Only three players have reached the 40-goal mark so far this season: Alex Ovechkin (46), Leon Draisaitl (41) and Kane (40). It's not hard to envision DeBrincat joining that club, which is hard to believe he could get there in his second NHL season.

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How Blackhawks will try to generate more offense in Game 2 vs. Golden Knights

How Blackhawks will try to generate more offense in Game 2 vs. Golden Knights

It's no secret that the Blackhawks need to generate more offense on Thursday against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2 of the first round Stanley Cup Playoff series.

The Hawks only had a short-handed goal from David Kampf to show for their efforts in Tuesday's 4-1 Game 1 loss. Although, Brandon Saad made one of the top plays in the postseason to set up the goal by stealing the puck in the Golden Knights' zone to set up Kampf. 

The potential for more offense is there. Chicago scored 16 goals against the Oilers in the qualifying round. The tallies ranged from greasy goals to snipes and power-play markers. 

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton has the Hawks playing the Knights a little bit tighter with Vegas' ability to roll four lines, but he still thinks they can find a way to outscore their opponent. 

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"We have to protect the puck in the offensive zone a little more, establish a little bit more zone time, force them to defend for longer periods," Colliton said on Wednesday prior to a Hawks practice in the bubble. "I think they’re a big team, they’re good at getting pucks back, they want to overload in D zone. If you can hold it longer, sometimes you can create something. We just want to have possession more in the offensive zone and get out of our own end quicker."

Against a big goalie like former Blackhawk Robin Lehner, who saved 19 of 20 shots for Vegas in Game 1, the Hawks need to get to the net and create more traffic in front to inhibit his ability to play and see pucks.

"This time of year, it starts with possession down low. They box in pretty good getting shots from the point, but as forwards, we've got to work harder to get to that net to help our D-men and get eyes in front of Lehner," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said Wednesday. "There were still some situations yesterday where we had some Grade-A chances and we didn't shoot the puck. We've got to take those shots, we can't hesitate. 

"They're throwing pucks from everywhere on Crow and trying to get ugly goals and that's how we're going to score this time of year in these playoff games. Against a team like Vegas, it doesn't have to be pretty. We need to test Lehner a little bit more, throw it at his feet, get in there and try and find some of those 'ugly goals' as we always say. It's pretty simple."

The Hawks scoring ugly goals against the Oilers was a big reason they advanced in the postseason tournament. Five of the Blackhawks' 16 goals against the Oilers came off deflections. 

They'll need to get to the net and try to score in similar fashion to even the series in Game 2. Otherwise it could get away from them.

Is Blackhawks' Round One strategy playing into Vegas Golden Knights' hands?

Is Blackhawks' Round One strategy playing into Vegas Golden Knights' hands?

The Blackhawks knew they'd have to elevate their game for Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in their matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights, who won the No. 1 seed from the West for the first round in the round robin.

The Hawks upset of the West's No. 5 seeded Oilers and their top-ranked power play and second-place penalty kill during the regular season — not to mention Leon Draisailt and Connor McDavid — was no small feat.

Chicago head coach Jeremy Colliton and the Blackhawks know they're facing a more complete team — capable of rolling four lines — in the Golden Knights, as illustrated by Tuesday's 4-1 Game 1 decision over the Hawks.

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Instead of focusing on just shutting down two players like they did against Edmonton, the Blackhawks are tasked with shutting down every line against Vegas. 

The Hawks' tight-checking strategy may have played right into the Knights' hands in Game 1 as Chicago's forwards were so focused on their defensive responsibilities that they failed to generate much offense, recording a measly 20 shots on goal Tuesday night.

Related: Robin Lehner got the best of 'reverse psychology' with Blackhawks familiarity in Game 1

"I think we did a better job controlling the puck in the offensive zone in the second period and on," Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith said after Tuesday's game. "They're a rush team and we don't want to get into a track meet with them so once we can get them to stop in the D zone, we control the game a little bit more."

If Vegas is scared of Chicago's rush, the Hawks need to use it more. They can avoid a track meet, but how about a few races?

Colliton, 35, deserves beyond the benefit of the doubt in how he had the Blackhawks prepared for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and in how they utilized a system that beat a good team as No. 12 to No. 5 underdogs at the opposition's home ice for his first postseason win in his second year as an NHL head coach. But, he needs to find a way to encourage the Hawks to play loose enough while limiting the Knights' chances in Game 2 that they can generate some of their own.

"We expect a tight series, we expect it to be a grind, we expect to face adversity," Colliton said after the loss in Game 1. "We did that, and we were right there. But we're going to have to find a way to win some of these games (and) we got to put ourselves in that position as well. Again, we just have to stick with it and they did it a little bit longer than us, and that's the message."

To Colliton's credit, Corey Crawford gave up two soft goals that he'd normally have, so the Hawks may have been able to squeak out a victory with their tight, conservative style on Tuesday.

"They’re a good team, they’re going to make you work for what you get," Colliton said. "But if you stick with it long enough and put pressure on the puck, we forced our turnovers, we got our chances. I thought we could’ve created even more if we were a little cleaner early on, especially in the first period. I thought there was more there for us. So we’ve just got to believe in that."

A way the Hawks can generate more in Game 2 on Thursday is by the forwards getting the puck to the D in the offensive zone, creating traffic in front of the net and getting shots off from the point, which played a big role in eliminating the Oilers in the play-in series.

"Yeah, we seemed to have a bit of success there last series. For whatever reason first game here it didn't happen as much," Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said following Game 1. "Part of it is just keeping the game simple. Being able to get it low to high and then get the shot through. But every game's different."

Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad, who made a beautiful play in Vegas' zone to steal the puck and feed David Kampf for the lone Hawks' goal in Game 1, knows there's more the Hawks can do to score some goals against the Knights.

"We had a lot of one-and-dones," Saad said after Tuesday's loss. "The biggest thing is getting out of our zone clean, playing hockey in their end. We had some shifts too where we pinned them in, we didn't get clean pucks to the net... For us, we just want to get as quick out of our zone as possible. When we get stuck in there, we're not going to get anything there."