Blackhawks

Blackhawks' confidence grows as series progresses

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Blackhawks' confidence grows as series progresses

The Blackhawks sat at Tuesday’s media session assessing their current situation, down a game to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Not great, for sure. But not new either.

“It's not necessarily a situation you want to be in. The fact [that] this group of players and this organization has been down that road a few times, has been able to persevere has been good for us,” Patrick Sharp said. “We're going to try to draw from that experience and play better games going forward.”

There’s a reason the Blackhawks are still confident heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final: they get better as series continue. In Games 4-7 during coach Joel Quenneville’s tenure here, the Blackhawks are 40-14. It’s a nice number, one that shows how much the Blackhawks get better as a series progresses. Since the 2013 postseason began they’ve trailed in four series, including the 2013 Cup final, when they were down 2-1 to the Boston Bruins. They only failed to come back in one of those four series – last spring against the Los Angeles Kings, who they trailed 3-1 before losing in Game 7.

“I think maybe it's part knowing what we're up against, part just us raising our game, getting better and better as the series go along,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously we don't draw it up in some situations when we get down in a series; it's not part of the plan. But I think we have confidence when we get in those situations that we can take it one game at a time, focus on the next game and continue to put pressure on the other team.”

The Blackhawks have strung together some good moments and some good periods against the Lightning. Their two goals in two minutes during Game 1 was a reminder of how quickly this team can turn the tables in its favor. They were dominant in the first period of Game 3, battering an injured Ben Bishop with 19 shots. The problem is, they haven’t been consistent. They’ve had miscues, they’ve allowed opposing goals not long after they’ve scored and they’ve trailed early in each of the first three games.

But they went down this road against Anaheim, who was blocking a ton of Blackhawks shots through the first few games. Then the Blackhawks broke through, got big contributions from top players – Toews led with four goals in the last three games – and upended the Ducks on visiting ice.

Maybe it’s a feeling-out process through those first few games sometimes. But the response has nonetheless been there late.

“We always want to start off the series good. I don't know, I just think it's a thing we have on our team: when the game is on the line, it matters more, we usually find a way to elevate our game a little bit,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “Hopefully we can do the same thing here in the last couple games.”

The Blackhawks have starred in this movie before, the one that has that slow start, the buildup in the middle and the flourish at the end. Whether or not they manage the same script against the Lightning remains to be seen. The Blackhawks usually have an edge in how they’ve dealt with postseason pressure, but so far, the Lightning have done well in that department, too. Still, the Blackhawks have the confidence they can find a way as a series continues. They’ve got the great record to show for it, too.

“The guys in the room, we want to be out there and win. We want to be out there in those situations and play in big games,” Brent Seabrook said. “For whatever reason, I think we play our best games when our backs are up against the wall.”

UPDATES

  • Coach Joel Quenneville said Johnny Oduya, who missed some time with an upper-body injury in Game 3, “looked all right today. We'll see how he is tomorrow.”
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk had a solid outing in his first NHL game since November. Said Niklas Hjalmarsson, “he made some really, really nice plays and showed patience and calmness with the puck. To just come in like that in the Stanley Cup Finals, play the way he did, was nothing else than impressive.”
  • Quenneville said, “we’ll see” when asked if the Blackhawks will have any lineup changes in Game 4.

Corey Crawford Keeps 2018-19 Mask Design

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USA Today

Corey Crawford Keeps 2018-19 Mask Design

Corey Crawford is a man who knows what he likes. Hockey By Design on Twitter shared a photo of Crawford’s mask for the 2019-20 season and it looks like he will be rocking the same airbrush mask he did last season. The design, by Stephane Bergeron of Griff Airbrush, features the Blackhawks logos and feathers backed a by a sleek black mask. What can we say, Crawford keeps it classic.

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Blackhawks mailbag: Could more trades be coming before 2019-20 season opener?

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AP

Blackhawks mailbag: Could more trades be coming before 2019-20 season opener?

Charlie Roumeliotis answers your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition. 

Is there any chance we see the Hawks make a trade before the season starts?

The Blackhawks had as active a summer as any team, revamping their roster and filling out their depth through trades and free agency. And because of that, it's going to be an extremely competitive training camp.

While the organization acknowledged that it's important to be 26, 27 players deep throughout the course of an 82-game season, the Blackhawks have a handful of players fighting for the same spot or two: Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander, Brendan Perlini, Dylan Sikura and Anton Wedin. Heck, even Kirby Dach.

August is always the dead period around the NHL. But come September, it wouldn't be surprising to see some movement around the league when teams figure out what they have on the ice. Training camp and preseason games are a time for GMs to evaluate who may be getting squeezed out, whether there's a breakout prospect emerging and it's also when the pressure point of having to be compliant with the cap.

The Blackhawks could be one of those teams looking to make a tweak or two before Opening Night, but don't expect anything significant.

Do you think Nylander makes the team this year or does he spend another season in the AHL? If he does makes the team, who do you see him fitting on a line with?

Alex Nylander is going to be given a fair shot to make the Blackhawks out of training camp, and it would be a disappointment if he didn’t. He was taken No. 8 overall in 2016 and simply hasn’t taken that next step in his development yet.

Perhaps the situation in Buffalo played a role in that, but it will truly be up to Nylander whether he does unlock his true potential in Chicago. There isn’t a reason for him not to. It’s a much healthier situation and the spotlight isn’t on him.

If Nylander does make the team, expect him to play with offensively-gifted players — guys who can help bring out the best in his abilities and think the game at the same level. But playing with those types of players also means you're drawing top competition on a nightly basis, so he will have to earn it.

Do you think all the additions this summer may be a strategic move to help prepare the Hawks for the expansion draft? (Keeping the prospects off the team till midseason or something so they remain draft protected/ineligible?)

Good question. The summer of 2020 is going to be a fascinating one for the Blackhawks because that's when teams are going to start making some moves ahead of the 2021 expansion draft. And as of right now, the Blackhawks are going to expose a really good player, whether they pick the seven forwards and three defensemen option or the eight skater one.

Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews all have no-movement clauses, so they must be protected (unless the player approves of being exposed, which is highly unlikely). Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are two others who must be protected, so that's six right there. Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw are two others who are eligible. Same with Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Connor Murphy. And if Erik Gustafsson signs an extension, he must be protected also.

Again, the list is deep. But to answer your original question, the primary focus this summer was to fill needs across the roster (physicality and defensive-minded players) and doing so through trades was the best possible option because they were able to get guys with term and a reasonable cap hit. Free agency is where the overpayment happens. The goalie situation for the Blackhawks is one to watch ahead of the 2021 expansion draft. 

As far as prospects go, Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach will not be eligible for the expansion draft no matter how many games they play in this season and next because the draft happens before the 2021-22 calendar season. So that will not play a role in the organization's decision regarding when they play in the NHL.

What are your expectations for the goaltending tandem in Rockford? Delia appears to be the current starter, but Lankinen was really impressive this summer for Finland. Small-ish sample size, but he was phenomenal. Do you think it will end up being an even split at some point?

Collin Delia may have signed a three-year extension with the Blackhawks, but that doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t want to give Kevin Lankinen a strong look also. Delia has earned the right to be the starter, but the split between he and Lankinen will likely be closer to 50-50 if both goalies are performing.

Lankinen was sensational between the pipes for Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, helping lead his country to a gold medal. But Delia is also taking significant steps in his development and doing so at a rapid pace. It should be a healthy competition in Rockford.

With so much prospect talk focused on Dach, Boqvist, & Delia (and rightfully so) is there a dark horse prospect (I'm talking about that under the radar grinder) fans should keep their eyes on & where are they expected to be playing this year so we can follow?

Two prospects come to mind when discussing potential dark horses: MacKenzie Entwistle and Philipp Kurashev. Both of them will be playing in Rockford this season.

Entwistle and Kurashev took significant steps in their development this past season, with Entwistle playing a key role in the Guelph Storm winning the OHL championship and Kurashev leading the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships in scoring with six goals in seven games.

Entwistle is a player who knows exactly what his role will be in the NHL and has already embraced it: a bottom-six forward, reliable penalty killer and a leader on and off the ice. And that’s something the Blackhawks value about him.

Kurashev is more offensively skilled and has some sneaky upside to be a potential breakout player as a fourth-round pick. Keep an eye on him.

Is it October yet?

This really has felt like a long summer, hasn’t it? We’re almost there, Zane. 

A few checkpoints are coming up on the schedule though that may help speed up the process: Traverse City prospects tournament from Sept. 6-11, training camp festival on Sept. 15 and the first preseason game on Sept. 16. We're getting closer.

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