Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Standouts from Blackhawks first preseason win against Red Wings

Four takeaways: Standouts from Blackhawks first preseason win against Red Wings

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 preseason win over the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center on Wednesday:

1. Alex Nylander gets a shot on the top line

After having a goal and an assist in his preseason debut on Monday, Nylander was rewarded by the Blackhawks coaching staff by starting on the first line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. And he certainly didn't look out of place.

The trio logged 14:28 of ice time together at 5-on-5 and generated 18 shots for and only five against, according to Natural Stat Trick. They also teamed up on Duncan Keith's eventual game-winning goal in the second period.

Nylander finished with a secondary assist, three shot attempts (two on goal) and one takeaway in 20:44 of action. He’s going to give the Blackhawks management something to think about.

"I thought he was good," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Again, we're looking for his play without the puck. We know he's going to do a lot with the puck. It's their first time playing together so there's always going to be some kinks you're working out as far as the plays they're making and what not but he had a great net drive on Dunc's goal. Those are the things that people don't notice but opens up ice.

"We want to open up ice for those skill guys he's playing with. I thought he had a couple really good tracks. He was forechecking, he was skating. That's what we're looking for and if he continues to do that then he can be effective at this level no matter who he's playing with."

2. Individual standouts

— Dominik Kubalik was given a top-six role again after his two-goal night in his preseason debut on Tuesday in Detroit. And he was noticeable. He recorded three shot attempts (one on goal) and had a game-high four takeaways in 14:29 of action.

— The Olli Maatta and Brent Seabrook pairing turned in a strong showing together. They were on the ice for 20 shot attempts for and seven against and eight scoring chances for and two against in 13:28 of 5-on-5 ice time.

— Brandon Hagel was named the second star of the game after scoring a goal and tying Keith with a game-high four shots on goal. He also logged 11:58 of ice time and won both of his faceoffs.

— Adam Boqvist showed why he was drafted No. 8 overall in 2018. He's flashy and has elite offensive skill, which you can see in the video below. He also earned some praise from his head coach for his defensive play, which is the part of his game that's going to be a constant work in progress.

3. Penalty kill still ironing out some kinks

The top priority for the Blackhawks this summer was to shore up their defensive issues, and that included the penalty kill. And even though we shouldn't put too much stock into overall team performance and results in the preseason, the Blackhawks have given up at least one power-play goal in each of their first three games.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, these games and stats don't count, but it obviously would be nice to head into the regular season with some positive momentum. Once the Blackhawks start to finalize their 23-man roster we should get a pretty good idea of what the special teams units could look like on Opening Night and beyond, and more chemistry will develop among the everyday players.

4. Roster cuts looming

In the last four days, the Blackhawks hosted their team scrimmage at the United Center and followed that up with three consecutive preseason contests. That was a significant evaluation period for the coaching staff and management.

Colliton said the Blackhawks are expected to make their first wave of roster cuts between now and Saturday, which is when their next preseason tilt is. The 23-man roster should start to take shape in the coming few days.

"We’re going to start," he said. "I don’t know exactly the timeline and how many and which day, but I can tell you it won’t all be in one day. And we’ll sort of work up to the game Saturday and we’ll have a tighter group, and especially for next week."

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.

Jonathan Toews ready to be Captain Clutch for Blackhawks' postseason run

Jonathan Toews ready to be Captain Clutch for Blackhawks' postseason run

The big things, the little things... Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was doing them all in the Hawks' 3-1 series upset of the Western Conference's No. 5 seeded Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Toews, 32, finished the best-of-five qualifying round series with seven points (four goals, three assists) a plus/minus rating of plus-2, a faceoff percentage of 55.34 and was on the ice for five goals for and two against in 5-on-5 play vs. Edmonton.

His game-winning goal with 1:16 remaining in Game 3 to make it 4-3, which deflected off his shin pad from a Connor Murphy shot, tied Toews with Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Patrick Kane for most postseason game winners (11) in Hawks' history.

"Technically we just made the playoffs now, so the real fun begins," Toews said after Friday's Game 4. "We worked pretty hard in this series to beat a good team and we're gonna have to dig deep to keep getting better and better (against) the next one. It's fun, like I said, even though there's no fans in the building. Guys want to win. Nice to get that series win. I think everyone's feeling good."

After Friday's Game 4 win, the Blackhawks improved to 17-5 in elimination games since 2010. In those games, Toews has 29 points with 11 goals and 18 assists. Patrick Kane also has 29 points in those elimination contests with 14 goals and 15 assists. 

The stats speak volumes of the captain's start to the postseason, but the way he played to record them say a lot more regarding the level Toews is performing at.

The three-time Stanley Cup champion center parking in front of the Oilers' net was a familiar sight during the series. After more than a decade of taking abuse in front of the crease, Toews is still willing to pay the price for his team. 

Related: More hard-earned goals and a killer PK advance Blackhawks to Round One

It wasn't just his two two-goal games, dominating on the dot and a strong defensive game throughout the series that was impressive, it was the determination that led to it.

There was a retro postseason intensity to his game, on display for the Hawks' younger players to observe the kind of edge successful playoff hockey often requires.

There was pulling up the bootstraps, packing the lunch pail and going to work on the boards, battling to get the puck to create chances, like when he won a battle down low to get rookie Dominik Kubalik the puck for the series-clinching goal at 8:30 of the third period in Game 4.

"Jonny’s been around a long time and he’s got a pretty immaculate track record in the playoffs," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said after Game 4. "To me, his biggest attribute that he has is his compete level. He wins a 50/50 battle on the winning goal, just finds a way to come up with the puck, and that’s the winner. He came up big for us throughout the series in those types of situations. Great player."

Related: How the Blackhawks upset the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers

It's no wonder the Blackhawks' younger players were so effective in the series. When they see veteran Hawks like their captain, several years their senior, doing the right things with purpose, they have no excuse not to.

"Thought he was great," Hawks goalie Corey Crawford said after Friday's game. "He was obviously one of our best players, not just offensively but he had a big block in the third there when they were pressuring. I mean when a leader's doing that I think that just follows throughout the lineup. Obviously he's won some Cups and knows how to play in these games, not much of a difference now. He was great."

Led by their captain, the Blackhawks did a lot right in the play-in series. They'll have momentum heading into Round One, albeit against a better team in the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights, but Toews' team has bought in.

If he continues to play at the level he opened the postseason at, anything is possible for him and his Hawks. Stranger things have happened in 2020.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Blackhawks news and analysis.

How the Blackhawks upset the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers

How the Blackhawks upset the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers

There was a lot the Western Conference's No. 12 seeded Blackhawks did right to upset the West's No. 5 seeded home ice Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Here's some observations:

Greasy goals

There was a common theme for a lot of the goals the Hawks scored against the Oilers, they were hard-earned and a lot of them were deflected into the Oilers' net. Five of the Blackhawks' 16 goals in the series came off deflections.

Matthew Highmore had a tip-in late in Game 3 to set the table for the 4-3 comeback victory, then scored the same way to put the Hawks ahead 2-1 in the first period of Game 4. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had a Connor Murphy shot deflect off his shin pad for the game-winning goal in Game 3 with 1:16 remaining in regulation.

Throughout the series, the forwards got the puck to the D-men in the offensive zone and got to the front of the net to create a screen or try for a tip-in. The formula constantly worked for the Hawks and they need to keep at it for as long as they're in the postseason.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Blackhawks news and analysis.

Keeping McDavid and Draisaitl in check

Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid had the first and second most points in the NHL before the pause, respectively.

Against the Blackhawks in the qualifying round, they had a combined 15 points (five goals, four assists for McDavid; and three goals, three assists for Draisaitl), which may not read like an accomplishment, but considering the uncanny offensive talent the two possess, the Hawks definitely succeeded in limiting their chances and keeping them from reaching their full level of production or potential in the series.

Related: More hard-earned goals and a killer PK advance Blackhawks to Round One

Coach Jeremy Colliton and his Hawks definitely got the best of McDavid and Draisaitl when they were the home team and had last change in Games 3 and 4. Colliton often put Toews' line against McDavid's — as well as the Blackhawks' fourth line with center David Kamp occasionally. 

Toews and his line were able to play solid defense against McDavid and the other Edmonton combos they faced. The Blackhawks captain was also able to help the Hawks hang onto the puck, winning 55.34% of the faceoffs he took in the series. McDavid won 43.1% of his draws in the qualifying round.

The PK

The Hawks went 12-for-17 on the penalty kill, including 5-for-5 in Game 4, in the play-in series against the Oilers. Chicago only allowing Edmonton five power-play goals in the entire series is pretty impressive as the Oilers touted the best power-play in the league during the regular season.

Maintaining a strong PK would benefit the Hawks in Round One, but so would staying out of the box to avoid an unfavorable momentum swing.

Captain seriously good

Toews had a monster series, resembling his former 2010 Conn Smythe-winning self in how he was able to take over some of the games in the qualifying round against top players like McDavid and Draisaitl.

In addition to being able to limit McDavid and win a majority of his draws, Toews had seven points (four goals, three assists) in the series. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ had two two-goal games (Game 1 and Game 3) in the series and won a battle behind the net to get rookie Dominik Kubalik the puck in front for the series-clinching goal in Game 4.

The Crow

After missing the first 12 days of the Hawks' Phase 3 training camp after recovering from COVID-19, Crawford progressed into looking like the two-time Stanley Cup champion goalie he is and appears to have plenty of quality hockey left in the tank.

After allowing 13 total goals in the first three games of the series, Crawford played his best contest on Friday, saving 43 of 45 Oilers shots for the win. It definitely looks like he's now in postseason form.

Young guns

The Blackhawks younger players really stepped up in the qualifying round series. After Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach was arguably the most consistently good Hawk.

Dach, 19, was only held off the scoresheet in Game 4 after logging a three-game point streak with four assists to start the series. He became the first Blackhawks rookie to score a point in his first three playoff games since Eddie Olczyk in 1985.

Kubalik, 24, set a new Blackhawks record for rookie points in a playoff game with his five-point performance in Game 1, scoring two power-play goals and picking up three assists. Steve Larmer held the previous record. Larmer had four points (one goal, three assists) in Game 2 of the 1983 Division Finals. Larmer went on to win the Calder Trophy in 1983.

Kubalik also became the first player to record five points in his postseason debut in NHL history. 

Highmore, 24, put the Hawks ahead 2-1 at 7:56 of the first period of Game 4 after tipping in a Duncan Keith shot from in front of the net. It was the second straight game Highmore scored off a deflection. In Game 3, he tied the game 3-3 at 14:13 of the third period, deflecting a shot from defenseman Slater Koekkoek past Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen and setting the table for Toews to complete the 4-3 comeback victory.