Blues beating Blackhawks at their own game

Blues beating Blackhawks at their own game

ST. LOUIS – Two years ago when the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues met in the first round of the postseason, their respective roles were defined.

The Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions entering that series too, were the unruffled ones. They were the ones shrugging off deficits. They were the ones keeping their cool.

Fast forward two years later and the roles seem to be reversing. The Blues, once skittish, have become stalwart while the Blackhawks are showing signs of frustration and, considering all their line changes onTuesday, some desperation.

So have the roles reversed so much that the Blues finally get over the hump and eliminate the Blackhawks? If the current trend continues, the defending champs could be finished playing hockey in April for the first time since 2012.

In the past the Blackhawks have played some great hockey when their backs were against the wall. They’ll find out if they still do on Thursday night, when the Blues host them in Game 5 of their first-round series. But again, things just seem different this postseason. In this series the Blackhawks lost Games 3 and 4 at the United Center – they only lost two home games through four rounds last spring.

Usually the masters of the comebacks, the Blackhawks have watched the Blues beat them at their own game in the last two contests. Their frustration showed several times in Game 4. While they took the lead on an inexplicably earned power play in the second, their penalty kill failed them twice more.

“You look at the first three games, we played pretty well. There were stretches [Tuesday] night where we weren’t as good as other games,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “At the end of the night we still had more chances but we had some areas we can be better in. Some other areas we found a way to get to the net, we got rewarded."

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These are not the Blues of two years ago. They’re no longer just trying to beat the Blackhawks with hits, which never works on its own.They’re now beating them with hits, and their power play and more forward depth and, to single out one guy, Vladimir Tarasenko.

These also aren’t the Blackhawks of two years ago, or even of last year. Can they come back from a 3-1 deficit? Considering their recent track record, you don’t rule anything out. But these Blues seem to have taken a page out of the Blackhawks’ playbook, and getting it back is going to be that much tougher.

“We've just got to look back to what's made us a successful team over the last number of years,” Jonathan Toews said. “There [are] some details that are present, and there are some that haven't been in these games that we have lost.

"Part of that is things that happen after the whistle; stuff that we've always done a good job of just staying away from and keeping it between the whistle, and just focusing our energy and our emotion in to the play that we bring on the ice. That's what we're going to need tomorrow night.”

A recap of Kirby Dach’s AHL debut and Blackhawks explanation for conditioning stint

A recap of Kirby Dach’s AHL debut and Blackhawks explanation for conditioning stint

Kirby Dach made his pro debut on Saturday, but it wasn't with the Blackhawks.

The No. 3 overall pick from this past June was activated from his injured/non-roster designation and assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League for conditioning purposes and jumped right into the lineup. He didn't appear in any NHL preseason games because he was under the league's concussion protocol during training camp.

In his season debut, Dach recorded two shots on goal and had a minus-1 rating in a 4-2 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins. He centered the fourth line with Brandon Hagel and Nick Moutrey.

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton discussed the decision to send Dach to Rockford after Saturday's game against the Winnipeg Jets, and it sounds like the organization remains committed to giving him a look at the NHL level whenever his conditioning stint is over.

"He hasn't played in a long time," Colliton said. "Missed training camp, missed the exhibition season. We think he can help us so we're trying to set him up, give him the best opportunity so when he does get the chance here he'll be as ready as he can be. It's a good league down there and a chance for him to get his feet wet against men. And I think he's been getting better and better in his practice time here with us. So I'm excited. Hopefully, he can gain confidence down there and then be ready to help us."

Because he's not eligible to play in the AHL full-time this season due to Canadian Hockey League rules, Dach's conditioning stint in Rockford can last up to 14 days, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, before the Blackhawks are forced to either recall him or send him back to the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League.

Rockford has four more games over that span, with its next one on Monday against the Laval Rocket at BMO Harris Bank Center.

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead in overtime loss to Jets

Four takeaways: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead in overtime loss to Jets

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center on Saturday:

1. Squandering a two-goal lead

For the second straight home game, the Blackhawks jumped out in front and even built an early cushion by scoring the first two goals in the opening frame. But they allowed the Jets to score three unanswered, including the overtime winner by Mark Scheifele, to remain winless on the season (0-2-1).

"We did a good job in the first and they took it to us in the second," said Brandon Saad, who scored a shorthanded goal. "Lehnny made some big saves and the third was kind of even. But we definitely had chances to close it out and we didn’t. At least we got a point and we have to move on from it."

2. Another lackluster second period

If there's one thing you can point to that's been a trend in all three games so far, it's that the Blackhawks have been lackluster in the second period. And it's difficult to pinpoint why.

In the middle frame, the Blackhawks have 10 scoring chances for and 35 against at 5-on-5, two high-danger chances for and 10 against at 5-on-5 and a minus-19 shot differential, according to Natural Stat Trick. That's an area of the game they're trying to clean up and has been the downfall to their attempts of putting together a full 60-minute effort.

"Obviously it's been three in a row where we haven't been very good in the second period and to me that's where you show how good you are," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "The best teams, they dominate the second period, so it's a point of emphasis for us. We'd like to control the tempo of the game and control the territory, out-chance the other team. That's where you show how good you are, so we're not close to where we want to be in that area."

3. Robin Lehner's debut

After going two weeks without game action, the Blackhawks gave the nod to Lehner, who went into Saturday with a 4-0-0 record, 2.76 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in five career games against the Jets. He took the loss, but certainly did his part to deserve a win.

In regulation, Lehner stopped 30 of 32 shots for a save percentage of .938. The first goal was on the power play, the second came at 5-on-5 when Andrew Copp found himself all alone in front and the third was in overtime during 3-on-3 action. His 5-on-5 save percentage was .962, which will definitely work.

"I felt good," Lehner said. "I felt like I saw the puck well. I thought rebound control was good. Again, the first one is unfortunate, it squeaks through. But I was where I wanted to be in position and somehow it goes in. Gotta try to clean that up. And the third goal, it just dove on me. He missed his shot. It’s unfortunate. But I thought I made some good saves and felt comfortable. We got a point, which is something, but should’ve got a win today."

4. Penalty kill shows improvement

The Blackhawks gave up a power-play goal for the third consecutive contest, but this was close to being a perfect night for the penalty kill. They went 3-for-4 and gave up only four shots on goal in the 7:38 of shorthanded time.

On the first Jets power play of the night, Saad scored a shorthanded goal for his first of the season and the Blackhawks later generated two more scoring chances before the two minutes expired.

The power-play goal against should've been stopped by Lehner but he did everything right and had the shortside sealed, the puck just found a mini hole. The Blackhawks responded with a big kill and had one late in the third period also. No complaints.

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