'Bad habit' of coughing up lead dooms Blackhawks in Game 3


'Bad habit' of coughing up lead dooms Blackhawks in Game 3

If there's been an Achilles heel for the Blackhawks during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it's been their "bad habit" of coughing up leads too quickly.

Through 20 postseason games it hasn't come back to bite the Blackhawks yet.

But it's an area Chicago must shore up if they want to hoist Lord Stanley for the third time since 2010 after Monday's 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Less than five minutes into the third period Marian Hossa sent a pass through the slot to Brandon Saad who gave the Blackhawks their first lead of the night on a quick one-timer that beat the glove of Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop.

[MORE HAWKS: Ben Bishop holds off Blackhawks as Lightning take a 2-1 series lead]

Before the 22,336 Blackhawks fans that were in attendance at the United Center were able to finish humming "Chelsea Dagger" Lightning struck.

Just 13 seconds later Lightning forward Ondrej Palat went hard to the net and grabbed the rebound on a Nikita Kucherov shot to sneak the puck past Corey Crawford, evening the game up at the 4:27 mark of the third period.

It became an occurrence that the Blackhawks are all too familiar with this postseason.

"It’s frustrating," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "A lot of things that we did today gave us the feeling we were going to come out on top. The effort we gave. Just a couple bad habits ended up hurting us. We’re all responsible for that. This game could have been similar to the way we stole Game 1 from them. We feel like we had a lot of chances, especially early in the game. Late in the game, we gave up those odd-man rushes we’ve been talking about. We’ll improve in that area and use as motivation to find that anger, the emotion we need to bounce back.

"Mistakes happen. We’ll improve on it and move on. It’s all we can do now."

Palat's tally was the tenth goal the Blackhawks have allowed in the postseason that came less than two minutes after scoring a goal of their own, with six of those goals coming less than one minute after scoring.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans]

Is it a cause of concern for Chicago?

"Big shift after goals, either way, we should be excited about being out there," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. "They got it to the net, loose puck ends up in the back of our net. You’d like to be going the other way after a draw but certainly, you can’t give up that type of goal."

Game 3 was the second straight contest the Blackhawks have lost to the Lightning after coughing up a quick lead. Teuvo Teravainen put the Blackhawks out in front in the second period of Game 2 before Kucherov scored less than two minutes later.

Despite the quick strikes happening 10 times this postseason the Blackhawks aren't looking at it as a "mental" problem.

"Mentally, we always try to talk about that," Blackhawks center Brad Richards said. "Things happen. I didn’t exactly see everything that happened, but the other team wants to score too after that. They’re trying to come out and have a strong shift after the goal. I know it has happened a lot to us after a goal and we’ve addressed it. Sometimes that’s just hockey."

While it's easy to look at Palat's goal as the turning point in Game 3, the Blackhawks had their chances early and could've possible put the game away in the first 20 minutes.

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After withstanding an early push from the Lightning, the Blackhawks dominated play for the final 15 minutes of the first period. With Bishop clearly laboring, the Blackhawks fired 19 shots his way as he turned away all but 18 of them. However, their two best scoring chances came when Bishop was nowhere near his goal crease. Both Hossa and Teravainen had wide-open nets in the first period and both attempts sailed wide of the net. What could have been a two goal lead for the home team turned into a tie game after 20 minutes of play.

Now, the Blackhawks find themselves in a 2-1 hole as they head into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

It's not unfamiliar territory for the Blackhawks, who are in the same position as they were heading into Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks. 

And the last time the Blackhawks trailed a Stanley Cup Final series? In 2013 when they trailed the Boston Bruins 2-1 before rattling off three straight wins en route to the Stanley Cup.

"Usually in every series, Game 4 is really huge," Hossa said. "It’s either a tie or go down by two games. We have been in this situation, and like I said, we just have to take a rest and be ready."


Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks


Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a Marcus Kruger redirection goal. The next one was the dagger, a beautiful give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade


Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

COLUMBUS — The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."