Blackhawks

Blackhawks need to bounce back from 'frustrating' pre-break slump

Blackhawks need to bounce back from 'frustrating' pre-break slump

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Blackhawks players enjoyed their weekend break in different ways. Some laid low and enjoyed time with family. Others headed to the west coast and its sun early – "tried not to get a sunburn," said Scott Darling.

They feel better. They feel a little more rested. And they feel they're ready to get back to playing how they did earlier this season and not how they finished their final two games before the All-Star break.

The Blackhawks limped into the break, losing their final two games in the third period, something that's been unusual for them. Now it's time for their other lengthy road trip of the season, which begins Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.

"Losing two games in the third – we haven't done it in a long time – was frustrating, knowing the second game you have [four] minutes to go to get a point or two, and you come up with air. So certainly disappointing way to go into the break," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Now we have a great challenge, six in a row on the road, starting off with one of the best. Right off the bat we'll be trying to recapture some confidence here, do the right things."

Darling agreed.

"Yeah, the last one was a tough one. The last two, losing a lead in the third period is something's that uncharacteristic for us," Darling said. "You could say it came at a good time. I think everybody enjoyed themselves and got away with their family and we were all excited to see each other today."

That excitement needs to translate to the ice, where third periods have suddenly become a bane. They were flirting with third-period danger in earlier games this season but until last Tuesday, they kept pulling a point or two out of those games. The Blackhawks are still in good shape coming out of the break – they're second overall in the Western Conference, four points behind the first-place Minnesota Wild. The Wild still have three games in hand.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Gustav Forsling gets another opportunity with Blackhawks]

While the Blackhawks always have an eye on who's around them in the standings they can't get caught in the trap of paying more attention to opponents more than their own game.

"We put ourselves in a good spot early. Now we've just been here," Quenneville said. "We lost some ground against Minnesota. We want to get back, try to recapture where we were most of the year but the most important thing is we want to be playing our best hockey as we're progressing right now."

The Blackhawks will play six more games before they get another break, the bye week that the NHL started implementing this season. Most of the Blackhawks players got a welcome respite this past weekend. Whether or not they make up ground on the Wild remains to be seen but they've got to get back to closing out games they way they did well before the break.

"The two losses the way we had [them], we should have those games. A couple of minutes left, it definitely hurts," Marian Hossa said. "We’ve been very busy. Having a nice three days off, it definitely helps to step back from hockey for a second and recharge and get some energy back and continue again."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Predicting who Blackhawks will take at No. 3 overall

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AP

Hawks Talk Podcast: Predicting who Blackhawks will take at No. 3 overall

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Slavko Bekovic and Charlie Roumeliotis react to the Olli Maatta trade and how this impacts the Blackhawks' defensive group. Is this the first of more moves to come?

The guys then break down their top-three candidates for the Blackhawks at No. 3 overall and predict who the pick will be on Friday. They also discuss how the Blackhawks' selection may impact the offseason and the big picture going forward.

0:40 – Initial reaction to the Olli Maatta trade

3:45 – How Maatta fits with the Blackhawks

7:45 – Filling Dominik Kahun’s spot

10:00 – Maatta’s contract situation

11:00 – Our top-3 draft predictions

18:30 – Official predictions on who the Blackhawks will pick

24:30 – Is there a wrong pick in the top 10?

27:30 – If the Blackhawks don’t pick D, the forward is…?

29:30 – How the Blackhawks selections shape the offseason

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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How Erik Karlsson’s extension with Sharks impacts Blackhawks, Western Conference

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USA TODAY

How Erik Karlsson’s extension with Sharks impacts Blackhawks, Western Conference

The 2019 NHL free agent class — both restricted and unrestricted — is absolutely loaded. But perhaps the biggest fish of them all has already been taken off the board.

Erik Karlsson and the San Jose Sharks have agreed to an eight-year extension worth $11.5 million per year, according to Cap Friendly, becoming the highest-paid defenseman in league history. It’s a significant move for the Sharks, who are looking to keep the band together and take a few more stabs at a Stanley Cup before their window starts to close — Joe Thornton is 39, Joe Pavelski turns 35 in July, Brent Burns is 34, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 32 and Logan Couture is 30.

How the Sharks make the math work going forward will be fascinating to monitor. Thornton, if he doesn't decide to hang up the skates, is a UFA. Same with Pavelski, who is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career. Both of those players have become part of the Sharks identity, but their futures aren't guaranteed. And then there are guys like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier, both of whom are RFAs and due big raises.

So how does the Karlsson extension impact the Blackhawks and the rest of the Western Conference?

For starters, the UFA defensemen class just got thinner and that could lead to overpayment across the board from teams looking for impact-type blue-liners because general managers that are looking to make a splash don’t want to come away empty-handed. The Blackhawks were never going to be in on Karlsson, but his contract set the market for this year's class and the fact the signing came before the NHL Draft now gives teams that would've been in on Karlsson an opportunity to refocus ahead of the negotiating period.

In the bigger picture, the Sharks just solidified themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for at least the next couple seasons. While the Karlsson contract may not look the greatest on the back half, given his durability issues, the Sharks had no choice but to offer him a blank check. When healthy, he is a game-changer and a two-time Norris Trophy winner who's still in his prime, and if the Sharks win a title in the next couple years then it was well worth it. You don't let players like him walk.

The Blackhawks are expected to be aggressive over the next several weeks, particularly in free agency but also continuing to explore the trade market. We already saw that when they acquired defenseman Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a move that could only be the first of many this offseason. The West might be top heavy, but this past season proved that any team can turn it around quickly and the Blackhawks need to do everything in their power to make sure they're one of those teams.

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