Blackhawks show their championship mettle in Game 4 victory


Blackhawks show their championship mettle in Game 4 victory

On every team's journey to a Stanley Cup they're going to have their championship mettle tested. For a battle-tested Blackhawks group that has their eyes set on a third Stanley Cup since 2010, that moment may have come in a span of 37 seconds in Game 4 against the Anaheim Ducks Saturday evening.

After a Brent Seabrook goal put the Blackhawks up 3-1 in the third period and sent the United Center crowd into a frenzy, the Ducks flexed their muscles by scoring three times in 37 seconds to give the visitors a brief lead. 

Just 64 seconds after Seabrook's tally, Ryan Kesler cut the lead in half for the visitors with a one-timer off a pass from Jakob Silfverberg. Only 23 seconds later, Matt Beleskey evened the game with a strip of Antoine Vermette and a shot that sailed past Corey Crawford. Sensing his team needed to regroup, Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville used a timeout, which he later proclaimed was the worst timeout he's ever called. The slight break in the action didn't stop Anaheim's onslaught as Corey Perry notched his ninth goal of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs just 14 seconds later to give the Ducks their only lead of the evening.

[MORE HAWKS: Antoine Vermette wins it in double OT as Blackhawks tie series

The three goals in 37 seconds by the Ducks set a franchise record and is the second-fastest in NHL history behind the 1978-79 Toronto Maple Leafs who scored three goals in 23 seconds against the Atlanta Flames with none other than Quenneville assisting on one of the goals. 

The shock and disbelief was felt by the 22,404 fans in attendance at the United Center, but it wasn't something the Blackhawks were going to let faze them.

"When it rains it pours in some moments, especially for us today in that third," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "A lot of teams wouldn’t feel too good about themselves but we did a good job of staying calm, knowing it is what it is. You can’t change that. You have to get yourself back in the game.

"It’s moments like that when things don’t go your way, they swing the other way for a minute it’s looking pretty good. We had the character and the poise to calm ourselves down, make a game of it and get ourselves back into it."

[MORE HAWKS: Five Things from Game 4 - Blackhawks back with a bang]

In desperate need of an equalizer, it was a man who is no stranger to postseason heroics that rose to the occasion with a streak-breaking power play goal.

After being held in check by the Ducks for 10 straight power plays, Patrick Kane snuck one past Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen for his team-leading ninth goal of the postseason to help send the game into overtime.

"We've been in these situations before," Kane said. "Everyone is accustomed and used to playing in these types of games, whether it's going to overtime or tight games. It seems like we've been in this situation a lot. We just try to stay calm and try to do whatever we can to get the next one."

To survive in the postseason you need contributions from each man on the roster, and the depth that the Blackhawks bring to the table was at the forefront in Game 4.

With a roster full of All-Stars, Olympic gold medalists and Stanley Cup champions, the hero from the Blackhawks' 5-4 double overtime victory on Saturday evening would be a player who was watching Game 3 on television.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Game 3, Vermette provided his biggest moment in a Hawks sweater since being acquired in a trade deadline deal back in March. 

Not letting his brief one-game hiatus from the lineup and earlier turnover that led to an Anaheim goal bother him, Vermette came through in the clutch with his second goal of the postseason to even the Western Conference Final at 2-2. 

After being questioned ad nauseam for sitting Vermette in Game 3, Quenneville was finally able to let out a sigh of relief when talking about his veteran center following Game 4. 

"I was very happy for him," Quenneville said. "What a huge goal for him and for us. What makes our game so great is that players are so competitive, they want to play in the worst way and want more ice time as well. You can understand where he was at, very disappointed. But he’s a great pro, stayed with it, and that line had a couple of looks in overtime.

"I’m glad he finished it because that was a huge, huge goal. Huge."

Down 3-1 vs. tied 2-2 in the Western Conference Final? Huge may be an understatement. Even for this resilient bunch. 

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade


Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks


Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."