Blackhawks 'don't want to go back to Nashville' for a Game 7


Blackhawks 'don't want to go back to Nashville' for a Game 7

The Blackhawks weren’t entering the weekend with any major concerns.

Sure, it would have been nice to close out the Nashville Predators in Game 5 on Thursday night but they still have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven, first-round series. And they get another chance at the United Center.

“We have a great opportunity here. It’s home ice and everyone’s back to play in front of the home crowd and have a big chance to score on a great note,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said on Friday. “We don’t want to go back to Nashville.”

[MORE: Blackhawks sticking with Scott Darling as starter for Game 6]

That last sentence is key. The Blackhawks certainly don’t want to go back to Nashville, where the Predators have won the last two games, outscoring the Blackhawks 11-4 in the process. If this series goes to a Game 7, you’d have to wonder how much of an advantage the Predators would have entering it.

So it’s simple: finish this off at home, where you’ve already won Games 3 and 4. If the Blackhawks get to the second round they’ll face either the St. Louis Blues or Minnesota Wild, who are locked in a 2-2 series heading into Game 5 on Friday night. A couple of days’ worth of rest wouldn’t be so bad facing either squad.

“I think the days off do wonders every round,” Kris Versteeg said. “It takes a physical toll on you, the amount of periods we played in the series, going into triple and double overtime. So closing it out on Saturday would be huge for us, especially from a health standpoint.”

For Game 6, a few things have to change. The Blackhawks need to limit the great chances the Predators have been getting. Nashville has shown that, if given rebounds, turnovers and other gaffes, it’ll score off them. Again, this is not new territory for the Blackhawks, as far as knowing how to win at this juncture.

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“Yeah, experience goes a long way for certain kinds of games where, [if] a few bounces don’t go our way, we don’t lose composure. We focus on the next shift,” Bryan Bickell said. “For the guys who have been on this team and have played a lot of playoff games and played big games in their careers, it’s nice to have us fall on experience and leadership we have to help carry this team.”

Thursday’s outcome wasn’t a total shock. The Predators were going to do everything they could to extend their postseason and took advantage of every chance the Blackhawks gave them to do that.

“Tomorrow is the day to have a solid 60 minutes and try to end the series,” Hjalmarsson said. “We know Nashville is going to bring everything they have. They did last game and we weren’t happy with the way we played. Hopefully we bring 60 solid minutes and bring a big win.”

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


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.