Blackhawks

An early look at Lightning and a few ties to Blackhawks

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An early look at Lightning and a few ties to Blackhawks

We’re just about at the month of June. And this year, much to their liking, the Blackhawks will be playing through the start of it.

One year to the date after the Blackhawks wrapped up their 2014 postseason, they’re continuing their 2015 run when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. The series starts Wednesday at Amalie Arena, with Game 2 there on Saturday.

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But with all the focus we’ve had on the Blackhawks and their Western Conference foes, what do we know about the Lightning? We’ll save our edges for when the series begins later this week. For now, however, here are a few tidbits about the Lightning, and a few connections to the Blackhawks.

— Familiar faces. Lightning goaltending coach Frantz Jean knows Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford very well. Jean coached Crawford when the latter played for the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) from 2001-2005. Last postseason, Jean spoke of how far Crawford’s come since those early days. “I’ve seen him grow from a teen to a man,” Jean said. When I see the work he had to go into the minors, to pay his dues and learn to be a consistent goaltender and then to be able to duplicate that in the pros, I’m very proud of him.”

— Seems like old times. Brad Richards will experience “a lot of different feelings” in facing his former team this series. Richards played his first seven seasons with the Lightning, winning the Stanley Cup – and the Conn Smythe Trophy – with them in 2004. The Lightning were going through severe financial issues when Richards was traded to the Dallas Stars in February of 2008, and he’s impressed with the team’s turnaround. “I’m very happy that it is back on track and doing what they’re doing down there,” Richards said. “It is going to be special, but I want to win [a Cup] so we’ll worry about friendships later.”

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— Unsung hero. Every postseason has a surprise outstanding performer, and Tyler Johnson has been that for the Lightning. The undrafted Johnson has scored 12 goals in 20 playoff games, including a hat trick in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers. Johnson isn’t the biggest player out there, but he’s been a tremendous force for the Lightning.

— Former captain on current captain. Brenden Morrow, who signed with the Lightning last summer, is making his first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2000, when he was with the Dallas Stars. In 2010 Morrow, then captain of the Stars, was Team Canada teammates with Jonathan Toews, who had just gotten the Blackhawks captaincy that offseason. A few months later the Blackhawks would win their first Stanley Cup in 39 years and Morrow saw the effect Toews had on the team. “I think at that point, they already had success,” Morrow said. “So you could tell that team was on its way, and [Toews] was the guy catapulting it.”

— Heating up at the right time. Show of hands: who was convinced Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos was hurt as the playoffs began? We were, and the no goals and three assists Stamkos had in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings seemed to back that up. Well, apparently he’s OK, because Stamkos has gotten better as the playoffs have continued. He scored four goals in as many contests (Games 2-5) against the New York Rangers. He also had three assists in that series.

— Bishop over King. Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop outdueled Henrik Lundqvist in the Eastern Conference final. Yes, we realize it’s not truly goalie against goalie but Bishop won out regardless. He had his rough outings, including giving up five goals to the Rangers in Game 6. But he shut out the Rangers on their home ice in Game 5 and again in Game 7. That’s pretty darn impressive.

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Man Child. The Saad Father. Baby Hoss. Kneel Before Saad.

You’ve got to have a pretty good start to your career to get nicknames and phrases like that coined after you as a 20-something breaking into the league. What Brandon Saad did in the first few seasons of his NHL career certainly qualifies.

After being selected in the second round of the NHL draft in 2011 (a steal, by all accounts), Saad eventually worked his way into the Blackhawks’ lineup and became a key contributor on two Stanley Cup teams…and did so before the age of 23.

Saad has spent parts of seven seasons in Chicago, notching 95 goals and 211 points in 374 games as a member of the Blackhawks. But his presence has been felt even more so in the playoffs. In 67 playoff games with the Hawks, Saad has 15 goals and 19 assists with a plus-16 rating. And if it weren’t for a tough-luck loss in Game 7 against the Kings in the 2014 Western Conference Finals, he might have had his name in consideration for a Conn Smythe Trophy, too.

Unfortunately for Saad, his career might forever be linked to Artemi Panarin’s because of the 2017 trade that brought the power-forward back to Chicago. But for as good as the Panarin/Artem Anisimov/Patrick Kane line was for a while – and that line doesn’t happen without Anisimov coming to Chicago in the first Saad trade – there might not have been a better two-way line in the NHL at one point than Saad/Jonathan Toews/Marian Hossa.

Whatever nickname you choose for him, Brandon Saad earns a spot on our Blackhawks All-Decade team as the left winger on the third line. 

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Alex Nylander on healthy scratch, feedback from Jeremy Colliton and role with Blackhawks

Alex Nylander on healthy scratch, feedback from Jeremy Colliton and role with Blackhawks

Alex Nylander's first couple weeks of the 2019-20 season have been interesting. He started on the top line and scored a goal in the season opener but by the third game found himself on the outside looking in.

Nylander sat out for one game before drawing back into the lineup on Monday, where he was placed on the fourth line with Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith. He logged a team-low 8:20 of ice time, but scored the second goal of the game that turned out to be the game-winner.

While he was disappointed about being a healthy scratch against Winnipeg on Saturday, Nylander took the positives out of observing the action from afar and taking a step back to collect himself.

"Of course you always want to be in the lineup but that could've been good for me to watch the game and learn from that game and take what I learned from that game into my game," Nylander said. "It was obviously something you don't want to do, you want to be in the lineup as much as possible and obviously stay there. I played a good game last game so I'm just going to build off that and keep doing what I've done all training camp, be confident and make my plays."

Nylander and head coach Jeremy Colliton sat down on Wednesday and watched every shift the 21-year-old took in Monday's 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. And the review was positive.

"I thought he was very good," Colliton said. "Eleven shifts, he was probably good for five, great for five and he had one tough one. He helped us win. He was a big part of our win the other night. It can be a little easier for him when he's playing less to really focus on the quality when he's out there. It may not be a bad thing for him as he grows into an everyday NHLer."

Nylander said he appreciated having that kind of line of communication with his head coach. He was drafted No. 8 overall in 2016 but hasn't been able to break through at the NHL level, so he's been open to any kind of constructive criticism.

"It's been really great," Nylander said. "Obviously I want to have a positive mindset every day here and get better. Getting feedback from my linemates as well as the coaches has been really good, just taking everything in and applying it to my game."  

The Blackhawks are trying to being patient with Nylander, but they're also trying to find a balance between giving him a long leash and holding him accountable. That goes with any young player.

"It's a combination of giving a guy enough room to make some mistakes and that's how he's going to grow but it's also accountability," Colliton said. "Sometimes you got to get a guy's attention. But he's responded great. Got no issues with his work ethic. He came out of the lineup for one game and I think he did everything right after that. Just how he approached practice, how he approached the media, being asked about it and how he approached his chance when he came back to make a difference for us."  

For now, Nylander will remain on the fourth line because the four-line rotation worked so well in their previous game. But it's clear he wants to have a large role on the team. He's just got to earn it on a consistent basis.

"Just focus on every shift I get here and obviously want to be good every shift and show that I want to be back on the top line or get more ice time," Nylander said. "But I've just got to play good here, work hard every shift and take advantage of who's out there and use my skill out there and just try to make plays and be good defensively as well."

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