Blackhawks

Blackhawks earn 2-1 Game 4 win, even series with Lightning

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Blackhawks earn 2-1 Game 4 win, even series with Lightning

Corey Crawford wasn’t thrilled with his last two games.

The Blackhawks goaltender wanted to be better, needed to be better, especially with each of these games against the Tampa Bay Lightning coming down to one goal. So with the Blackhawks getting off to an incredibly slow start and then fighting off a furious Tampa Bay finish, Crawford was steady from puck drop to final horn.

Crawford stopped 24 of 25 shots and Brandon Saad scored the game-winning goal as the Blackhawks held off the Lightning 2-1 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks tie the series 2-2 heading back to Tampa, where Game 5 will be on Saturday night.

Saad’s goal, a backhander 6:22 into the third period, was his eighth goal of this postseason. Jonathan Toews scored his first goal of this series, and 10th of the playoffs, about seven minutes into the second period.

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It was a night full of surprises at the United Center,starting with the Lightning’s starter. Ben Bishop, who’s nursing some injury, was out. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who came in for Bishop late in Game 2, was in. On the Blackhawks’ side it was line-shuffle time. Among the changes, Patrick Sharp was put on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa and Saad, Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane – a combination that proved point happy in the 2014 Western Conference Final – were put together.

Whether it was lack of energy or those line combinations, which didn’t click early, the Blackhawks didn’t have the appropriate reaction to the young backup Vasilevskiy taking the net. It took them just over eight minutes to record their first shot on Vasilevskiy – from Sharp – and the Blackhawks had just two shots for the first period.

As Brad Richards observed, “that was probably our worst game in a while for whatever reason.” Good thing it didn’t extend to their goaltender.

“He was the player of the game tonight, obviously. Not just in the first period but that last two minutes we kind of hung on for dear life there. He just stood tall and made big saves and really made everything look pretty simple tonight,” Richards said. “I don’t know what happened in the first. Maybe [the lineup adjustment] was it. I don’t know. For whatever reason we were just stuck in mud again. But Crow came up with an unbelievable game and gave us a chance to win.”

Crawford was at his best in the waning minutes, when the Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy and vied for the tying goal. Steven Stamkos missed two great opportunities wide and Crawford stopped everything else.

“I was just trying to take the bottom front of the net away,” Crawford said on Stamkos’ late bids. “He was a little too close to get [the shot] up; he was really in tight. Just make sure there are no holes underneath.”

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Toews said, “We're impressed but we're definitely not surprised that Crow shows up and plays the way he did. We obviously need him that way this time of year, with the guns, the ability, the offensive talent that they have, to make the stops that he made tonight. Obviously we need him to win games like this.”

Crawford was looking for more from himself in Game 4. On a night where the Blackhawks didn’t get the necessary start and didn’t get a lot of offense, Crawford found more.

“That was probably one of my best games of the last few,” he said. “Then again, you can’t think about what happened before. You’ve got to worry about what’s next.”

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.