Blackhawks cruise past Ducks, headed to Stanley Cup Final


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.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

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.”

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."