Blackhawks

Blackhawks blanked by Pekka Rinne and Predators in Game 1 loss

Blackhawks blanked by Pekka Rinne and Predators in Game 1 loss

The Blackhawks always judge their game on what they give up, and in that respect they were fine with their overall play on Thursday. It's what they couldn't generate on the other side that was the problem.

Pekka Rinne stopped all 29 shots he faced, and Viktor Arvidsson's great tip-in in front was all the offense the Nashville Predators needed as they took a 1-0 victory over the Blackhawks in Game 1 of their first-round series on Thursday. The Blackhawks will look to even things up on Saturday, when they host the Predators in Game 2, but as of now, the Predators have the home-ice edge.

It was the first time the Blackhawks had been shut out in a postseason game since the 2012 playoffs against the Arizona Coyotes. Rinne was good in this one, but coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with the quality, or lack thereof, they threw at Rinne.

"He looked all right tonight because we didn't make it tough on him," Quenneville said. "Any goalie who sees the puck as much as he did tonight (is) going to be effective. Whether we look the puck to the net ourselves or had the net presence or played goal when we're at the net, I think that's where we have to find a way to get through, hang around. That's where the rewards are."

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Artem Anisimov, who was coming off a leg injury that kept him out a month, had some of the Blackhawks' best chances near the net. His timing, something players say is the last thing to get back off an injury, was a bit off.

The Blackhawks actually came out shooting to start the first, but that soon disappeared. For nearly 14 minutes of the first period, they had no shots. In between the Predators took a 1-0 lead, with Arvidsson tipping in Filip Forsberg's shot at 7:52 of the first. The Blackhawks had a chance to clear, but their forwards collided and the Predators produced off it.

"I think it was three forwards looking at each other to see who was going to grab the puck, (Ryan) Johansen came in and made a play, kept it alive," Jonathan Toews said. "Maybe all five of us got caught watching. We can't be standing around. Someone has to step up and make the simple plays, even if it's whacking it out of our zone. Try to kill plays like that before anything develops."

The Blackhawks outshot the Predators 23-9 in the final 40 minutes. It was certainly better than their too-quiet first, but when Rinne didn't make the stops, his teammates in front of him did. The Predators blocked 26 shots on Thursday.

"I think they out-battled us a little bit today, that's why we couldn't get into those dangerous areas in front of their goalie. They were battling extremely hard in their own end," Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "We had the puck most of the game and I thought we played decent, but it's not good enough. I think the intensity level has to go up a couple of levels, and we've got to find a way to score goals. They played really well defensively, but at the same time we have to find a way to score."

As Quenneville said, Game 1 wasn't terrible. It wasn't aggressive enough, either. The Blackhawks know how to beat Rinne, how to beat any goaltender at this level. They just didn't do it.

"We've got to be better across the board. We need everybody going," Quenneville said. "Obviously starting a little late tonight didn't help. More desperation around the net and that willingness to get there and fight through it, pay a price, whatever's there."

Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach emerging as star and living up to 'playoff performer' hype

Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach emerging as star and living up to 'playoff performer' hype

Ask anyone in Chicago who the standout of training camp 2.0 was and you'll hear one name: Kirby Dach.

“He has all the potential in the world,” Patrick Kane said. “He can be a top player in the league.”

“He’s got the potential to be a great player in this league and a great player for the Blackhawks for a long time," echoed Brent Seabrook.

Upon hearing this enormous praise from a pair of three-time Stanley Cup champions and joining the hype train myself, I couldn’t help but think: Are we putting unfair expectations on a kid who’s still only 19?

The answer: Nope. Because he can handle it.

Dach looks like a completely different player after finally having an “offseason” to recharge, both mentally and physically. And it’s showing in the postseason.

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Through three games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, Dach has four points — all assists — and a team-best plus-4 rating; in total, he’s been on the ice for eight of the Blackhawks’ 13 goals so far. He became the first Blackhawks rookie to register at least one point in his first three postseason games since Eddie Olczyk in 1985. 

All those numbers are great, but here’s the eye-opener: Dach is averaging 20:21 of ice time in the postseason, which trails only Patrick Kane (22:21) among team forwards. He led all Blackhawks forwards with 23:21 of ice time in Wednesday’s Game 3 comeback win over the Edmonton Oilers, which was, by far, a career high for Dach, who averaged 14:16 of ice time during the regular season.

The Blackhawks are giving him an enormous amount of responsibility, whether it's top-six minutes at even strength, power-play time on the first unit and penalty kill reps. And Dach is handling it about as well as you could ask for.

"He loves responsibility and he thrives on it," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We knew, based on how he looked in training camp, that he was ready to take a bigger role here. He's been great. He's been as advertised."

Dach isn't just making an impact on the scoresheet, either. He's doing the little things right, too.

Olli Maatta scored the first goal in Game 3 after his shot from the point got past Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen, but that puck doesn't go in without the 6-foot-4, 197-pound Dach wreaking havoc in front of the net. Those plays don't go unnoticed inside the locker room.

"It shows that the coach trusts in your abilities to get a job done," Dach said of the added responsibility. "And as a player, it's a welcoming challenge. You want to be put in those situations and succeed in them."

One of the main reasons why the Blackhawks selected Dach third overall in 2019 was because of the way he elevated his game in the Western Hockey League playoffs. He was the engine for the Saskatoon Blades and the focal point for opponents yet thrived off the attention.

“He does all the things that can wow you, but then he does the other stuff, too," GM Stan Bowman said the day the Blackhawks drafted Dach. "He was great at stripping pucks, he was great at backchecking, he was great at the physical play when the series got pretty intense in the playoffs and it was clear they were targeting him. He not only took it, he gave it back. It was impressive to see him raise his game at a time of year when it matters most, which is playoff hockey.

"You watch the NHL playoffs and you see how intense it can be and then you look at the way he plays, and you can see that that game translates."

It sure does.

Whether he can be a big-time point producer in the NHL remains to be seen, but it's clear Dach is the kind of player whose game is better suited for the playoffs than the regular season. And we're seeing why.

How Blackhawks' unlikely heroes on defense are providing boost in Oilers series

How Blackhawks' unlikely heroes on defense are providing boost in Oilers series

Jonathan Toews was dominant in Game 1's 6-4 win and he was back at it in Game 3. But, with the special teams woes the Oilers have been causing the Hawks in touting a power play that was No. 1 in the NHL at the time of the pause and a penalty kill that was No. 2, not to mention the top two points leaders in the league during the regular season (Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid), Chicago needed some unlikely heroes to emerge in the series.

Enter Blackhawks defensemen Connor Murphy, Olli Maatta and Slater Koekkoek.

With Game 3 tied 3-3 and just 1:16 remaining early Thursday morning, Murphy fired a wrist shot to put the Hawks ahead. It even appeared as if he scored the goal himself at first, but Toews was credited with his second goal of the game on the play and Murphy with the primary assist. The D-man finished Game 3 with a +/- rating of +1 in 21:55 of ice time.

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"Just a lucky bounce," a modest Murphy said of his play that helped the Blackhawks take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, having the Oilers facing elimination in Friday's Game 4. "Didn’t throw (a) hard one at the net. I saw Tazer had good position. He was all alone in front, should be able to get a tip on it. ... Just those last minutes of games, every faceoff’s so huge, obviously that one being a big one to get a shot off."

Koekkoek got the primary assist on Matthew Highmore's first career postseason goal which tied the game 3-3 at 14:13 of the third.

Maatta scored the first goal of the game 9:14 into the opening frame off a pass from Patrick Kane and picked up the secondary assist on Highmore's goal. 

"He's got experience from playing in the playoffs, it's nice to have that, and he's done a great job defensively, killing penalties and he's calm back there," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said of Maatta, who won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins before coming to the Hawks, after the game. "He's been able to chip in offensively, too, that's always a bonus. Our D as a whole are doing a great job of getting pucks through and getting it to the net, and we're going to need to continue to do that."

Related: Blackhawks overcome special teams woes, complete comeback in Game 3

Maatta has a two-game goal streak in the series and he and his D-partner, Koekkoek, were the only blueliners in Game 2's 6-3 loss with a positive +/- rating (+2). Maatta had one goal in Game 2 and Koekkoek a goal and an assist.

"I think we do a great job whenever we get in the zone, our forwards do a great job holding onto the puck. That makes them collapse a little bit. They do a good job of giving us the puck with a little more time. It hasn't been only me and Kooks," Maatta said of the Hawks blueline's contributions to the series. "It's been Haaner (Calvin de Haan) and Murph and Duncs (Duncan Keith) and Boqi (Adam Boqvist). They're getting pucks through and it feels like every time we get it to the net our forwards are in good position, battling for them, getting rebounds, getting tips. It makes it tough for them."

According to Murphy, with the way the Blackhawks' forwards and D have been effectively collaborating in the offensive zone, it's best for Chicago's defensemen to just keep firing pucks on net when they can.

"It’s always part of your game plan," Murphy said. "Especially our forwards draw good attention when they’re entering the zone, knowing that we’ve got a lot of firepower in them, a lot of skill and strength. They do a good job of drawing wingers down to them. It leaves a couple of open shots. Kooks and Olli have been hot lately and have really smart shots they get through, go in. That’s always a good plan."