Blackhawks

Dad's day: Sharp scores OT winner again

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Dad's day: Sharp scores OT winner again

Updated: 9:52 p.m.

For the first 40 minutes the Blackhawks forgot the cardinal rule in playing former goaltender Antti Niemi: shoot at him often, and get traffic in front of him.

They finally did it in the final 25 minutes. And guess what the outcome was.

Andrew Brunette deflected the tying goal with 66 seconds left in regulation, and Patrick Sharp scored on the doorstep with 33.2 seconds remaining in overtime as the Blackhawks came back to beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 on Sunday night. It was the Blackhawks second straight victory and fourth in their last five games; and Sundays victory came thanks to those greasy, hard-working goals.

You look at all the goals, theres somebody at the net, coach Joel Quenneville said. We didnt have any pace first 40 minutes. They dictated the game and we had more urgency and zone time in the third. You have to score with traffic. If (Niemi) sees pucks, hes very effective.

The Blackhawks languished in the first 40 minutes against the Sharks, who despite playing Saturday night in St. Louis looked fresher and were active offensively. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, managed just 13 shots in the first two periods. Niemi did have his brilliant stops, including one on Viktor Stalberg early and a stunner against Marian Hossa on a later power play.

And if not for another great night by Ray Emery, the Blackhawks wouldnt have even been within one goal entering the third period. But thanks to his stopping 35 of 37 shots 33 of those shots coming in the first two periods the Blackhawks had a chance; and he had his 100th victory of his career.

Emery said the momentum swing was evident in the third, when the Blackhawks outshot San Jose 16-3.

You could kind of feel it on the bench. We thought we had a pretty good chance to score in there, Emery said. The way we played the whole period we had a lot of chances and it felt like we were about to score at any time.

The equalizer came from Brunette, who, parked in front of Niemi, deflected Hossas shot past him to send it to overtime. And then it was Sharp, whose newborn daughter and wife came home from the hospital earlier in the day, shoving a Hossa rebound past Niemi for his second game-winning goal in as many contests.

Its easy to kind of turn things off when you come to the rink, but I thought I was a space cadet for the whole game and then I was able to bounce one in there for the winner, so I got lucky, Sharp said. Ill be much better on Wednesday.

Taking shots and getting traffic. Theyre two pretty good recipes for success against any goaltender.

Its all because you have someone in front of the net and youre shooting pucks with traffic, Quenneville said. Sometimes it doesnt have to be pretty.

Late punches

Marian Hossa wasnt too happy when San Jose left wing Ryane Clowe started hitting him from behind at the end of regulation on Sunday. Hossa and defenseman Colin White where shoving each other when Clowe came in.

I just tried to shoot the last couple of seconds, (White) gave me a couple of whacks so I returned them and somebody kept hitting me from behind, Hossa said. You try to not pay attention to it but the hits keep coming. I just turned around and told him, Dont be a coward, hitting from behind."

Hossa would set up the game-winner, but he said he put the late-regulation fracas out of his mind.

I think that tying goal gave us lots of energy and I didnt care what happened at the end, he said. We had more jump the last few minutes. It was a great job by Sharpie staying in the crease to get the winning goal.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.