Blackhawks

Blues want home-ice advantage, but Stanley Cup is ultimate goal

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Blues want home-ice advantage, but Stanley Cup is ultimate goal

The Blues had one goal in mind entering Thursday's contest against the Blackhawks: Collect two points and force the Stars and themselves to earn home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference on the final game of the regular season.

St. Louis did exactly that, overcoming a one-goal deficit — that felt like more, in a defensive battle — to beat the Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime and pick up their 107th point of the season, clinching at least home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Stars (107 points) held up their end as well, cruising past the Avalanche 4-2, meaning both teams may be doing a little scoreboard-watching during their respective games on Saturday.

"For us, the whole focus was home ice and to continue to keep pushing towards first place," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after the game. "Every team has to play (the final game) now; Dallas has to play for points, we've got to keep playing for points and then we'll just see where it goes. But it's nice to know that we're going to have home ice no matter who our opponent is."

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And it could be the Blackhawks, who finished 2-0-3 against the Blues this season. 

In the regular-season finale on Thursday, Jonathan Toews put the Blackhawks up 1-0 during the back-half of the second period, scoring his 28th goal of the year. It had the feeling that that would turn out to be the game-winner, but, like the Blues have done all season long, they displayed the type of resiliency every team serious about contending for a Stanley Cup needs when Vladimir Tarasenko tied things up with 1:16 remaining with the extra attacker on.

In overtime, Tarasenko scored the game-winner for the second time at the United Center this season, sending a sold-out crowd of 22,075 home thinking about the two points they could have gotten in regulation, which would have kept the hopes alive for potentially hosting a first-round matchup.

That's no longer feasible. It is for St. Louis, though.

"It's an important two points," Tarasenko said. "It's always good to win away, it doesn't matter if it's against Chicago or another team. We won a game against a truly good team is really good for our confidence."

Two more points that haven't come easy for the injury-ridden Blues.

[MORE: Late lead erased as Blackhawks fall to Blues in overtime]

The Blues rank No. 13 with 277 man games lost this season, according to mangameslost.com, which doesn't seem too terrible. But that ranking jumps to No. 4 in quality players lost, the highest among any team currently in the playoffs. 

Goaltender Jake Allen and captain David Backes are out with lower-body injuries until at least the start of the playoffs.

Steve Ott, who hasn't played since December due to a hamstring injury, was close to returning to action before being diagnosed with Colitis on Wednesday, and is expected to miss at least two weeks.

Robby Fabbri (ankle injury) and Jay Bouwmeester (upper-body injury) were both game-time decisions heading into Thursday's matchup against the Blackhawks, but only Bouwmeester returned to action. There's a "good chance" Fabbri will play Saturday, according to Hitchock.

Even Elliott suffered a minor scare at practice Wednesday, leaving early after hurting his hand, but, fortunately for the Blues, it wasn't bad enough where he'd miss time as they continue to battle for the No. 1 seed in the West.

[RELATED: Five Things: Good work for Scott Darling vs. Blues]

"That was a big game for us," Elliott, who made 24 saves in the win, said. "We really wanted that one, and to kind of prove a point — a measuring stick at this time of year.

"You go into every season, that's your goal is to finish at the top and get home ice, and march your way through the playoff to the ultimate prize. Just trying to give ourselves a chance."

The Blues are hosting the President's Trophy winner Capitals in the final game of the regular-season on Saturday while the Stars are hosting the Nashville Predators. Certainly no cakewalk for either team.

While the Blues would love to secure home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, they're not losing sight over the bigger goal.

"I think we need to think more about winning a Stanley Cup," Tarasenko said.

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

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AP

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."

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

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USA TODAY

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

COLUMBUS — 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."