What Blackhawks fans should watch for in the Stanley Cup Playoffs


What Blackhawks fans should watch for in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

It's a weird time in Chicago.

Usually in April, the Blackhawks are gearing up for a lengthy postseason run. This year? They're already gone for the summer and will be watching from home for the first time since 2007-08.

But there are still plenty of reasons to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs if you're a Blackhawks fan.

Here are five of them:

1. The Blackhawks and Penguins are tied for most Stanley Cups in the salary cap era with three. Can Pittsburgh three-peat to break the tie?

The Blackhawks became the first team in the salary cap era to win three Stanley Cups, doing so in 2010, 2013 and 2015. The Penguins became the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017, and matched the Blackhawks with three total after picking up their first in 2009.

It's a deadlock. Will Pittsburgh become the first team to win four and three-peat? 

2. With the Predators winning the Presidents' Trophy, will Chicago native Ryan Hartman go from a non-playoff team with the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup winner in Nashville?

The Blackhawks didn't want to trade Hartman at the deadline, but the Predators presented a package too juicy to pass up and were forced to pull the trigger. That's what happens in a season like the Blackhawks had, where almost everything is on the table.

It was difficult for Chicago to see one of their own be traded to a Central Division rival, but would anybody be really disappointed to see Hartman win his first Stanley Cup? Surely, it would be painful to see him do it in a Predators sweater but it would make for a nice story, going from a non-playoff team to an instant winner in a span of a few months.

3. Can Artemi Panarin help the Blue Jackets advance past the first round for the first time in franchise history?

The Blue Jackets were looking for an offensive playmaker this offseason to help get them over the hump, and that's exactly why they acquired the Bread Man from the Blackhawks.

Panarin set a franchise record for most points in a single season (82), which was also a new career high for him, and is the best forward on a team looking to move past the first round for the first time. And if they can do that, who knows how far they can go until the train stops.

4. Tommy Wingels fell two games shy of winning his first Stanley Cup in 2015-16 with the Sharks. Can he do it this time around with the Bruins?

Here's another Chicago native with a legitimate chance at getting his first Stanley Cup with a different team after starting the year with the Blackhawks. And you better believe he'll be playing with a chip on his shoulder.

Wingels fell two games short of winning it all with the Sharks in 2015-16 after losing to the Penguins in six games. 

Wingels will turn 30 years of age on Thursday when the Bruins host Game 1, and you never know how many opportunities you'll get once you reach the back half of your career. This is a prime chance for Wingels to make a mark and add a Stanley Cup to his resume.

5. Michal Kempny has appeared in one career playoff game. How will the former Blackhawks defenseman fare with the Capitals, who are searching for their first Stanley Cup in team history?

The Blackhawks were hoping Kempny could turn into an every-day player on the blue line this season, but he struggled to crack a  young, crowded group on a consistent basis.

He's getting that opportunity with the Capitals, where he's playing in a top-four role and has recently spent time with John Carlson on the first pairing.

The Capitals are still searching for their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Heck, they're just looking to get to the Conference Final. Kempny was brought in to help shore up their defensive depth and, in the larger picture as a team, ultimately change their playoff fate.

Check out the full playoff schedule on the networks of NBC here!

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens


All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

The second wave of Blackhawks defensemen is on the way. That's exactly where all the attention was when prospect camp opened up Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Nicolas Beaudin. Adam Boqvist. Henri Jokiharju. Ian Mitchell. Call it the Big Four. Where are they all at in their development? When will they be ready to make an NHL impact? Who's the most pro ready? 

Lots of questions. Those will slowly start to get answered and it begins now.

While there may not necessarily be an open competition among the group right away, there's certainly a desire to make a strong first impression in front of the upper brass that included Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville watching on Day 1.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensemen prospects, so I mean obviously when you want to go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can," Mitchell said. "Obviously you want to be the best defenseman here so that's my goal going into this, I want to prove to everyone that I'm a good defenseman, I deserve to play at the next level. Obviously there's lots of good players here, but you're trying to all succeed."

Said Beaudin: "There's a lot of competition. There's a lot of good, young defensemen. I think you just need to be different when you play when you show what you can do."

Said Boqvist: "I'm trying to be better every day. Of course I will play in the NHL one day and win Stanley Cups, so that's my mindset."

The theme? Focus on your own game, take what you learn out of this week and apply those tools in your game when advancing your development next season. The rest will take care of itself.

Mitchell will go back to Denver for his sophomore campaign to continue his development. Beaudin is expected to return to the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Boqvist signed with the OHL's London Knights, where he will look to get accustomed to the North American style of play.

For Jokiharju, the goal is different. This is his second development camp. He signed an entry-level contract in June. Making the big club is a real goal and a legitimate possibility for a Blackhawks team looking for young, impact defensemen immediately.

"I think if Henri has a really good summer of training, comes into camp, I certainly thinks he gets a good look," Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NBC Sports Chicago last month.

Jokiharju showed poise and confidence with and without the puck during drills, like someone who knows this is only the first step towards that ultimate goal.

"Yeah," Jokiharju responded when asked if the expectation is to make it to the NHL this season. "You want to set the bar high, you don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big and that's the dream."

That's the dream for everyone. When that happens, it's up to them. This week is a chance to set an early tone.

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was identified as the victim in an early morning drowning on Sunday at the Hamilton Harbour, Hamilton Police confirmed. He was 35.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, Emery and his friends jumped in the water around 6:30 a.m., but Emery never resurfaced. His body was recovered later in the afternoon.

Emery played in the NHL for 11 seasons, two of which came with the Blackhawks from 2011-13, where he served as a backup goaltender to Corey Crawford.

In 2013, he teammated up with Crawford to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals against in a single season, before going on to capture his first Stanley Cup. During that season, Emery went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Blackhawks issued this statement following the confirmation:

The Chicago Blackhawks organization was deeply saddened to hear of Ray Emery’s passing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. The Blackhawks will fondly remember Ray as a fierce competitor, a good teammate and a Stanley Cup champion.

The hockey community took to Twitter to offer their condolences when news began to spread: