Blackhawks

Rookie Dominik Kubalik is the bright spot on tough season for Blackhawks

Rookie Dominik Kubalik is the bright spot on tough season for Blackhawks

During a trying season for the Blackhawks that will most likely result in them missing the postseason for a third consecutive year, rookie Dominik Kubalik has emerged as a bright spot that can help direct the franchise to an irradiant future. 

The winger's 29 goals lead all NHL rookies. He's logged most of his ice time skating on Toews' left wing this season. 

Kubalik, 24, has outshined another great year from Patrick Kane, a second-straight impressive season from captain Jonathan Toews and a goalie tandem that was the envy of the entire league to be the best story of the 2019-20 season.

On Thursday, the Czech player added to an already fabulous first NHL campaign by collecting his first NHL hat trick in the Hawks' 5-2 victory over the Lightning. He has 18 goals in his last 22 games. 

"It feels amazing," Kubalik said of netting his first hat trick. "It is something special. First time [after] I had my first two goals I missed [a shot]. So I had it in my head, I'm not going to lie. So I was trying to do it as quick as possible and really happy it happened." 

So what's clicking for him?

“I have no idea. That's a good question, I’d like to know too," he said after Thursday's game. "Just trying to do the same thing: be around the net because lots of goals are just laying there. So that's where I'm trying to be and I've been lucky, so I'm really happy for that."

Kubalik — who came to Chicago via a trade with the Los Angeles Kings for a fifth round pick — also breathed life into the Hawks' cold, dead power play after being added to the top unit. The forward scored his second goal on a power play in Tampa and also scored on the man advantage in Sunday's 2-1 loss at Dallas. 

The Blackhawks have power-play goals in four straight games, including three in Tuesday's 6-5 loss at St. Louis. 

Following the win over the Lightning, Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said he wished he had put Kubalik on the power play's top unit earlier in the season.

"Great kid," Colliton said of Kubalik. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. Confidence is a big part of his game. He's a guy who can be a little up and down depending on how he feels about his own game. But I think recently he's been able to smooth that out and find an extra level of consistency. And that's great, it's great for us, great for him."

The Hawks will need to focus on locking him up this offseason, when he'll become a restricted free agent. He's due for a significantly higher payday than his current $925,000 cap hit with a $1,775,000 average annual value. 

As uncertain as the Blackhawks' future is currently as to how much rebuilding will be done moving forward, one thing's for sure: they got a goal-scorer in Kubalik. 

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2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 1 win over Sharks

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 1 win over Sharks

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup team, NBC Sports Chicago is re-airing each of the Blackhawks' 16 postseason wins from the run that ended a 49-year championship drought. You can join the conversation using #HawksRewind on social media.

Despite opening the Western Conference Final on the road, the Blackhawks overcame an early deficit to defeat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in Game 1 at HP Pavillon. Here are three things we noticed in the win:

1. An epic goaltending battle

The Blackhawks and Sharks ranked third and fourth, respectively, in goals per game going into the playoffs, so it wasn't a surprise to see two of the NHL's best offensive teams reach the Final Four.

The offensive firepower was on full display in Game 1, with the two teams combining for 85 shots on goal, 68 scoring chances and 22 high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. But it was the goaltending that stole the show.

Antti Niemi made a career-high 44 saves on 45 shots for a save percentage of .978. He also stopped all 13 high-danger chances. His counterpart Evgeni Nabokov turned aside 38 of 40 shots, including all nine high-danger chances, for a save percentage of .950. 

2. Escaping the special teams nightmare

The Blackhawks made Game 1 very difficult on themselves in the special teams department. They committed five minor penalties compared to the Sharks' zero, which is as lopsided a ratio as you'll ever see in the playoffs.

The Sharks capitalized on one of those five chances but credit the Blackhawks for hanging in on the other four. They played a full 60 minutes without a single man advantage and made sure it wasn't the reason they lost the game.

3. The legend of Dustin Byfuglien grows

You are going to see a lot of Byfuglien in this series, and he didn't waste any time.

In a 1-1 tie, a wide-open Big Buff pounded his stick on the ice, received a pass from Patrick Kane in the high slot and buried a slap shot past Nabokov with 6:45 left in regulation and it turned out to be the game-winner.

Byfuglien scored a goal in all four games and was credited with the game-winner in three of them. Game 1 was just the start.

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Blackhawks re-sign Highmore, Lankinen, agree to terms with 2 prospects

Blackhawks re-sign Highmore, Lankinen, agree to terms with 2 prospects

The Blackhawks announced on Thursday that they have re-signed pending restricted free agent forward Matthew Highmore and goaltender Kevin Lankinen, and agreed to terms with forward prospects Evan Barratt and Andrei Altybarmakyan on entry-level contracts.

Highmore's deal runs for two years through the 2021-22 season and carries a $725,000 average annual value (AAV). Lankinen's deal is also for two years and runs through the 2021-22 campaign, and carries a $800,000 AAV.

Barratt's deal runs for three years through the 2022-23 season and carries an $870,000 AAV, while Altybarmakyan's is a two-year deal that runs through the 2021-22 campaign and carries a $817,500 AAV.

Highmore has six points (two goals, four assists) in 36 games with the Blackhawks this season and registered 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 21 games with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Lankinen went 8-10-2 with a 3.03 goals against average and .909 save percentage for Rockford before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery on March 2.

Barratt, who was drafted by the Blackhawks in the third round (No. 90 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft, is the most notable signing. He registered a team-high 12 goals and 22 assists for 34 points in 34 games during his junior season at Penn State, and was also a Hobey Baker nominee in 2019 after setting career-highs in goals (16), assists (27) and points (43) as a sophomore.

Altybarmakyan was also taken in the third round (No. 70 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He registered career highs in goals (six), assists (11) and points (17) in 49 games this season for HK Sochi of the Kontinental Hockey League, and appeared in three games for HK Tambov of the VHL.

With the re-signing of Highmore and Lankinen, the Blackhawks now have nine pending restricted free agents, which most notably includes Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome.

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