Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Konroyd's keys to closing out the series

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Blackhawks: Konroyd's keys to closing out the series

1. Close-out games are tough.

We’ve heard this one before but it’s worth repeating — the last game to win in a series is the toughest. And it should be. Facing elimination, you are fighting with every ounce of strength and will to get that boot off your throat so that you can get back up off the mat. And if Predators can do that tonight, they will be on even terms with the Blackhawks heading back home.

[MORE: Blackhawks 'don't want to go back to Nashville' for a Game 7]

That’s a pretty big motivator for the Preds, and the Hawks are well aware of it. That’s why you have to weaken their will with strong shifts from the drop of the puck. Get pucks deep, get them back with a ferocious forecheck and get pucks on goaltender Pekka Rinne.

2. Play with a lead.

Even though the Blackhawks are up 3-2 in the series, they haven’t played with a lead very often. Over the five games thus far, Chicago has led on the scoreboard for just 37 minutes and 15 seconds. That’s out of almost 369 minutes already played in this series.

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Just over 10 percent of the time has Chicago been in the lead. That’s a big advantage for the Predators, especially a team that doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience. It lets them feel like they can run with the big dogs and be competitive. Fatigue sets in a lot earlier when you are chasing the game. Get the lead early and don’t look back.

3. Power play needs to be a factor.

Since scoring a couple of power play goals in Game 1 in Nashville, the power play has come up empty. A dry run of 0-for-13 does not give you a lot of confidence with the extra attacker, and it can actually provide momentum for the defenders.

By comparison, Nashville has struck for five power-play tallies, although one was into an empty net in the last game. Both special team goals scored by Chicago were down low, so it’s important that the Hawks are taking the puck to the net. Point shots are fine to open up the box, but the down-low play has to be more of an option, especially the way Patrick Kane was playing last game. Give him the puck on the boards and let him work his magic from there.

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

Kirby Dach was taken by the Blackhawks with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on Friday.

On Monday, the Blackhawks introduced him to the city of Chicago. Dach took his first trip to Chicago for his introductory press conference.

Later in the day, the Canadian threw out the first pitch at the Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Dach didn't throw a strike, but it wasn't a blooper reel pitch either.

Watch Dach's first pitch in the video above.

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.