Blackhawks rally to beat Predators, advance to second round


Blackhawks rally to beat Predators, advance to second round

Duncan Keith was just looking for some space, any space through which to take a shot.

Much like in Game 1, the puck was with the Blackhawks defenseman at a critical time. And just like in Game 1, when Keith sent the Blackhawks home happy with a victory, on Saturday he sent them into the second round.

Keith scored with 3:38 remaining in regulation as the Blackhawks came back to beat the Nashville Predators, 4-3, in Game 6 of their first-round series on Saturday night. The Blackhawks won the series 4-2 and will await the winner of the Minnesota-St. Louis Series. The Wild lead the Blues 3-2 in their series; Game 6 is Sunday afternoon in St. Paul, Minn.

[WATCH: Duncan Keith sends Blackhawks to second round with late goal]

Corey Crawford returned to the net midway through the first period and stopped all 13 shots he saw for the victory. Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews also scored for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks looked like they could’ve scored a few times before they finally did get the winner. Then Jonathan Toews won a puck battle along the boards and passed back to Keith, who faked a shot, faked another shot, then fired past Pekka Rinne.

“We knew we had them on the run in their zone. I just wanted to be patient there and make sure on my shot, knowing they may be gassed there with the puck in their end,” Keith said. “I had some room to make a few fakes, try to get a lane — I think (Marian Hossa) was in the high slot — and just try to get it on net. I’m not sure [Rinne] saw it all the way.”

Crawford saw it from his end.

“Oh my God, that was probably one of the better games I’ve seen him play,” Crawford said of Keith. “That last play, that goal, that’s probably one of the better plays you’ll see from a defenseman. That was crazy. And before that the spin-o-ramas and it was just a great play by him, definitely.”

[MORE: Five Things from Game 6: Blackhawks top guys bring top games]

Keith getting the game-winner wasn’t the only similarity between Games 1 and 6. These two, outside of the first going to double overtime and this one ending in regulation, were near carbon copies of each other. The Blackhawks had a shoddy start to both. They started down in both — 3-0 in Game 1 and 3-1 through the first 11-plus minutes tonight. Their starting goaltender got pulled in both; Scott Darling, who came in for Crawford in Game 1, was pulled tonight after allowing three goals on 12 shots — oh, and that’s what Crawford allowed in that Game 1 first period. James Neal scored twice and Matt Cullen scored, prompting the change.

Crawford’s return was met with cheers from the United Center. It was also met with a better defensive performance. The Predators had 12 shots on Darling in the first 11:16 of the game. They had just 13 the next two-plus periods.

“I thought we were horrible to start the game, absolutely dreadful,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We get beat 1-on-2, a 1-on-1… I wasn’t blaming the goalie. But it was easy to get Crow back in there.”

As the defense tightened, the offense opened up. Sharp scored to make it 3-1 not long before the goalie change. Toews’ power-play goal made it 3-2 Predators 58 seconds after Crawford entered the game. Then Kane scored to tie it 3-3 with just six seconds remaining in the first period.

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“It was a good faceoff and Duncs just left it on a tee for me there,” Kane said. “Big plays like that, when you score at the end of periods, you can get momentum. It definitely a good feeling to tie it up after the first.”

It was a better feeling to wrap this one up at home in Game 6. It wasn’t how the Blackhawks drew it up; they know they can’t start games like that. But they found a way to win in another adverse situation, much like they did in Game 1.

“[They are] something we can work on, obviously, our starts. That’s a mental thing more than anything,” Keith said. “We knew there was lots of time and we have confidence in our ability as a team. We showed that.”


Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


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 East Coast Hockey League 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.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen


Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."