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Blackhawks cruise past Ducks, headed to Stanley Cup Final

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Blackhawks cruise past Ducks, headed to Stanley Cup Final

ANAHEIM, Calif. — There’s a belief system that’s been instilled in the Blackhawks’ core for some time now.

It’s the belief they’ll find a way to get through different situations, whether they’re down in a game or, in the case of the Western Conference Final, down in a series entering Game 6.

Couple that belief system with the appropriate drive and talent, and you have a team heading to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in the past six seasons.

Jonathan Toews scored twice and Patrick Kane had three assists as the Blackhawks beat the Anaheim Ducks, 5-3, in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final on Saturday night. The Blackhawks will play Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay beginning on Wednesday night.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks-Lightning Stanley Cup Final schedule]

Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook also scored for the Blackhawks. Duncan Keith had two assists, and Corey Crawford stopped 35 of 38 shots for the victory.

For the Blackhawks, who are making this Stanley Cup trip for the third time since 2010, this series brought plenty of challenges. The Ducks were physical, determined to knock the Blackhawks off their game and through the boards, if need be. If that physicality took a toll on the Blackhawks, they weren’t showing it much. Two question marks remain: Bryan Bickell didn’t play past the early part of the second period, and Marcus Kruger — who took a big hit later — didn’t play over the final six minutes of regulation. Both remained on the bench, and coach Joel Quenneville said both “should be fine.”

As for the Blackhawks in general, they couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Toews was the catalyst, scoring twice in the first period, his first giving the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead just 2:23 into the game. Toews’ power-play goal, which he scored about 10 minutes later, gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead and quieted the Honda Center.

“I don't know if one particular person made a difference. I think we played a good team game,” Seabrook said. “We came out of the gates hard. We wanted to play well to start the game. We knew how well they can start in this building, like (in) Game 5, so we wanted to come out and establish our game early.”

[WATCH BLACKHAWKS: Keith on Toews, Kane: 'No two guys I'd rather have on my team']

It didn’t dissipate in the second period. An odd bounce off the boards went right to Kane, who found a wide-open Saad, who found a wide-open net, for a 3-0 lead.

“That’s one of them, for sure,” said Saad, when asked if that was one of the easier goals of his career. “Being able to play with (Kane), there (have) been multiple times when things like that happen, but what a great pass backdoor.”

Hossa’s goal put the Blackhawks up 4-0 before Ryan Kesler scored late in the second period and Corey Perry scored midway through the third to make it 4-2. But Seabrook, who has come through with some big goals of his own this postseason, got his sixth of the playoffs to give the Blackhawks a 5-2 lead.

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The Blackhawks got big performances throughout this series, from Keith’s ability to play nonstop (seemingly), to Toews scoring the last two goals in the Honda Center in Game 5 and the first two in Game 7 to Saad reminding everyone he’s going to get paid quite handsomely this offseason.

Now the young, fast, upstart Lightning wait. The Blackhawks will savor this for a day before focusing on Tampa Bay. The task isn’t complete yet for the Blackhawks, but once again, they’ve found a way to get where they want to be.

“We got ourselves to a seventh game, and we always say anything can happen,” Toews said. “Tonight we came out flying as a team and had contributions offensively across the board. I’d say it was our best game of the series, continuing with the pressure knowing they were going to respond as well.”

With Connor Murphy set to return, Blackhawks reassign Adam Boqvist to Rockford

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USA TODAY

With Connor Murphy set to return, Blackhawks reassign Adam Boqvist to Rockford

The Blackhawks announced Thursday morning that they have reassigned top defenseman prospect Adam Boqvist to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

The 19-year-old Swedish defenseman appeared in six games for the Blackhawks and averaged 14:27 of ice time. He scored his first career NHL goal in his second appearance in a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 2.

But with Connor Murphy (groin) eligible to come off long-term injured reserve on Saturday, the Blackhawks had to make a corresponding move to become cap compliant and Boqvist was the obvious candidate to be sent back down.

He’s still in the early stages of his development, but Boqvist certainly held his own at the NHL level during his brief stint. The Blackhawks want him to continue playing top pairing minutes and in all situations, and it would’ve been difficult for him to do that in Chicago with Murphy returning to the lineup.

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Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner tandem proving to be exactly what Blackhawks envisioned

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AP

Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner tandem proving to be exactly what Blackhawks envisioned

LAS VEGAS — The first day of NHL free agency is always exciting for hockey fans, particularly the first hour when most of the moves are announced at a rapid rate. Last offseason, the Blackhawks had a quiet few hours before dropping the hammer on the most surprising signing of the day, Robin Lehner, to a one-year deal.

“I think we have the best 1-2 punch in the league is the way I look at it right now,” GM Stan Bowman said on July 1. “I certainly feel really comfortable going into next season, whether Corey Crawford’s in net or Robin Lehner’s in net.”

So does the entire city of Chicago.

More than one month into the 2019-20 season, the goaltending tandem between Crawford and Lehner is exactly what the Blackhawks envisioned it would be. That’s what happens when you pair a Vezina Trophy finalist with a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

"We got two guys who are outstanding," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I think they're both going real well now and that's a huge advantage for us no matter who's in the net, we're getting a chance to win. It gives our guys a chance to come through offensively, so they've been big for us."

After starting the season 1-4-0 with a 3.67 goals-against average and .888 percentage, Crawford has been lights out since the calendar flipped to November. He’s 2-0-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in his last four starts, which includes a 39-save performance in a 5-3 win over the Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Lehner has been one of the league’s best from the beginning. His .934 save percentage ranks second among goaltenders with at least six appearances and his goals saved above average at 5-on-5 ranks fourth-best, according to Natural Stat Trick. Crawford's goals saved above average of 4.21 puts him at ninth.

And this is despite the fact the Blackhawks are giving up the most shots on goal per game (37.1), second-most high danger chances per 60 minutes at even strength (13.1) and third-most scoring chances per 60 minutes at even strength (29.2).

While the dynamic may have been awkward at first, both goaltenders appear to be making the best of the circumstances and view it as healthy competition.

"I mean, he's doing a great job," Crawford said of Lehner. "Definitely keeping us in games or being a big factor in some wins. I think both of us are just trying to be at our best when we get the chance."

The challenging part of the situation is getting both guys a fair amount of starts. Crawford has been vocal about preferring to start regularly — “it’s a little bit easier when you keep playing games in a row” — and Lehner no doubt feels the same.

"They both want to play 60 games, 80 games maybe,” Colliton said. “That's part of the team. [Patrick Kane] wants to play 60 minutes. It's how it is. Ultimately, we want to make decisions that help the team win and part of that is keeping both guys fresh, keeping both guys playing at a high level and I think that's going to be a benefit for us as the season goes on."

It’s a good problem to have if you’re the Blackhawks, especially if Crawford and Lehner are at the top of their games at the same time like they are right now.

"It's great," Calvin de Haan said. "I think goaltending's the most important position. If you're not keeping the puck out of the net, you're not going to win a lot of games. But those guys are giving us a chance every night and it's really evident the past few weeks here."

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