Blackhawks

Patrick Kane, Dominik Kubalik and Jonathan Toews have emerged as new nuclear option for Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Patrick Kane, Dominik Kubalik and Jonathan Toews have emerged as new nuclear option for Blackhawks

When desperate times call for desperate measures, the Blackhawks usually load up their first line by pairing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together. Chicago knows it as the “nuclear option.” 

But there’s a third piece to the puzzle this season: Dominik Kubalik.

After falling in a 2-0 hole in the first period against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, head coach Jeremy Colliton turned to Kubalik-Toews-Kane in the second period for a spark, just like he did on Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks. And it paid off immediately.

For the fifth straight game, Kubalik found the back of the net after Kane’s shot went off Kubalik’s leg and in with 2:40 left in the middle frame. And just 3:41 into the third period, Toews’ stretch pass led to Kubalik’s second goal of the game to even the score at 2-2. It’s the 18th goal of the season for Kubalik, who has back-to-back two-goal games and now sits alone atop the rookie leaderboard in goals.

Toews eventually won it for the Blackhawks by scoring his NHL-leading 12th career 3-on-3 overtime goal to complete the two-goal comeback, but it probably wouldn’t have happened if Kane wasn’t moved to the first line, even though Drake Caggiula complemented Kubalik and Toews very well in the opening frame.

The Kubalik-Toews-Kane line logged 10:01 of ice time together at 5-on-5 and this is what their stat line looked like at the end of the game, according to Natural Stat Trick:

— 11 shot attempts for and 5 against
— 7 scoring chances for and 0 against
— 4 high-danger chances for and 0 against
— 2 goals for and 0 against

Kubalik led all skaters with nine shots on goal, five of which came from the slot, according to Sportlogiq. The trio combined for three goals, four assists and 18 shot attempts (13 on goal), willing the Blackhawks to their fifth road victory in six games.

Colliton has been reluctant to start that line together in the past, though, because it takes away from the balance.

"They're going to continue to play together at times," Colliton said after Saturday's 4-2 win over the Ducks. "I'm not going to commit to playing them together all the time. When we don't spread it out, it's problematic for playing a four-line game, and we can't expect them to out-score the other team by two or three every night. But we can spot them in. They've done a great job for us when we've done that."

[WATCH: Kubalik-Toews-Kane line lifts Blackhawks past Senators]

That's exactly what happened on Tuesday, but the success of that line this season is making it difficult on the coaching staff not to start them together at this point.

When Kubalik-Toews-Kane are on the ice together at 5-on-5, the Blackhawks are controlling 51.8 percent of the shot attempts, 56.9 percent of the scoring chances and 53.9 percent of the high-danger chances. They’ve also been on the ice for 11 goals for and only 3 against.

How overloading the first line impacts the depth scoring is a valid concern, given all the injuries the Blackhawks are dealing with. But right now, they should ride the momentum of their new nuclear option of Kubalik-Toews-Kane.

"They’re going to play together," Colliton told reporters in Ottawa. "It’s just finding the right combos, the other combos, and do we need them to spread out the depth in the group? At some point we’ll get some players back and we’ll see how that looks but for now, they’re doing a good job.”

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4 Takeaways: Blackhawks power up but fall in high-scoring affair to Blues

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USA TODAY

4 Takeaways: Blackhawks power up but fall in high-scoring affair to Blues

The Blackhawks scored three power-play goals, but lost 6-5 to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues in St. Louis on Tuesday. Here are four takeaways: 

Crow's net

After trading goalie Robin Lehner to Vegas ahead of Monday's trade deadline, Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said Corey Crawford will be the team's lone starter the rest of the year, likely with Malcolm Subban (return from Lehner trade) backing him up.  

After a rough start to the game, allowing the Blues to draw first blood, Crawford made some big saves in the first period to keep the Hawks in it and allow them to answer back. 

Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy was tagged with a tripping penalty 11 seconds into the game that produced a Brayden Schenn power-play goal 33 seconds into the contest, which had Chicago trailing 1-0 early. 

Murphy later redeemed himself by scoring off a wrist shot at 14:09 of the first to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead. 

After a four-goal third period, Crawford finished the game with 31 saves on 37 shots. His performance wasn't indicative of the score. The Blackhawks defense had a rough game and the penalty kill went 2-for-4. 

100 for Duncs

Duncan Keith scored on a Blackhawks power play at 10:55 of the first period. 

He became the 100th defenseman in NHL history to score 100 goals. Keith joins Bob Murray, Doug Wilson and Brent Seabrook as the only defensemen to reach the milestone with the Blackhawks.

He later added two assists in the game.  

The two-time Norris Trophy winner recorded his 500th assist in Wednesday's 6-3 loss against the New York Rangers. Keith is the 40th defenseman in NHL history to reach 600+ points. 

RELATED - Duncan Keith reaching elite career milestones this season

Powerful

With Keith's marker, the Hawks picked up a power-play goal in three straight games. They were 0-for-17 on the man advantage in their previous six.

Patrick Kane added another power-play goal for the visitors, scoring 1:13 into the second period. Brandon Saad scored the Blackhawks' third power play of the game at 8:16 of the third to put Chicago ahead 5-4. 

The Hawks only had three power-play goals in the entire month of February before Tuesday. It was only the second game this season in which Chicago had at least two power-play goals. The other was against Vancouver on Nov. 7 in a 5-2 win in which they scored two. 

D breakdowns

Like the majority of the time the Blackhawks have been scored on this season, a couple of the Blues' goals on Tuesday were a result of defensive breakdowns. In the third period, St. Louis scored two even-strength goals in 16 seconds. 

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Robin Lehner opens up on getting traded by Blackhawks

Robin Lehner opens up on getting traded by Blackhawks

Las Vegas media met Robin Lehner for the first time on Tuesday following the Golden Knight's practice.

In a complicated transaction, Lehner was first traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for winger Martins Dzierkals, a 22-year-old unsigned draft pick. Lehner and Dzierkals were then traded to Vegas, getting the Blackhawks goaltender Malcolm Subban, defenseman prospect Slava Demin and Vegas' second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist, who was 16-10-5 as a Hawk this season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage, was refreshingly honest with the Chicago media on a daily basis. 

The 28-year-old was a little more soft-spoken in Vegas on Tuesday, but had plenty to say on the trade and his time in Chicago. 

Similar to his Windy City tenure with Corey Crawford, Lehner will likely be splitting time in net with another No. 1 goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.

"I just got here," Lehner said when asked about his role with the team. "I had a couple talks with [head coach Pete DeBoer]. I'm just here whenever they need me, to do the best I can. Try to be ready and try to just help the team win when I get the chance."

Aside from Crawford, Lehner has had additional experience sharing the net with other great goalies.

"I played with good goalies my whole career, ever since my Ottawa days with (Ben) Bishop and Craig Anderson, Brian Elliott . . . it's no different," Lehner said. "I'm coming in here to do my best and [ trying] to help the team win. 

"Marc-Andre is obviously one of the best goalies in the league and he's been for his whole career, very impressive career. I got to spend time with Corey Crawford this year, which was great and get to finish out the year with Marc and it's a good opportunity for me." 

Sin City's newest goalie was a bit surprised Vegas got him ahead of the deadline. 

"I definitely was," Lehner said. "We were hearing from a few teams and Vegas came out of nowhere. I was a little shocked but really excited, pleasantly surprised. Hell of a team in here and fun to join a team that has a chance to win the Cup." 

The netminder had mixed feelings when asked if he was surprised to be traded by Chicago. 

"Yes and no," Lehner said. "[If you] asked me a few weeks ago, no. I had high hopes, but nothing happened. Never got an offer of anything, so I figured last few days that's probably going to be the case."

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