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.

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

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AP

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.