Five Things from Blackhawks-Preds: Darling impresses again


Five Things from Blackhawks-Preds: Darling impresses again

NASHVILLE — It’s certainly not how the Blackhawks would’ve drawn it up: a horrible first period, a 3-0 deficit out of it, a pulled starting goaltender, a second-period comeback and one-plus overtime to get the winner.

Yes, it was an interesting night for the Blackhawks, who started off bad and finished with a flourish and a 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Nashville Predators on Wednesday. This one featured all sorts of drama and, well, some damn awesome playoff hockey from both teams.

So while we still have a little post-deadline adrenaline flowing, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ come-from-behind victory over the Predators.

[MORE: Goalie switch sparks Blackhawks to double-OT win in Game 1]

1. Darling does it again. Scott Darling probably didn’t think his first NHL postseason game would come in relief duty but there it is nonetheless. Darling was in from the second period on, and was outstanding from the third period until Duncan Keith scored the game-winning goal. One stop that will likely get replayed a few times is his stop on Ryan Ellis on a third-period power play. Darling said he did some previous video study on it: “they tried it a few times before and didn’t connect. That one they did it exactly how they wanted to do it and I got a leg over,” he said. “It’s a 50-50 shot: either he gets the top of the net or doesn’t and it hit my leg. So I was happy about that.”

2. Patrick Kane is back. Kane said he felt a little rusty with his timing, something that was expected given he missed the last seven weeks with a fractured clavicle. Nevertheless, he made an impact and it was most noticeable on the power play. The Blackhawks scored two power-play goals on Wednesday, a Patrick Sharp 5-on-3 and a Jonathan Toews 5-on-4 score that tied the game. Even when they didn’t score on it, their possession time and opportunities were much better. Kane was a major contributor to that.

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3. Be ready from the start. The Blackhawks weren’t — clearly — ready at puck drop on Wednesday night. The Predators deserve their share of the credit. They were out to prove something, they had a crowd decidedly on their side and they took advantage of every miscue the Blackhawks committed. The Predators had great chances to win this game, chances that Darling stopped. The Predators will look for the same start on Friday; the Blackhawks have to be more ready for it then than they were on Wednesday.

4. Sticking with it. The Blackhawks haven’t faced many 3-0 first-period deficits in recent playoff games but they have dealt with the ups and downs of postseasons. That experience helped them on Wednesday, when they said they didn’t scream or carry on after a horrible first. “Nobody was too down; we knew we had a lot of time left,” Kane said. “It’s something we’ve been through a lot.”

5. It is just one game. Let’s look at this with a broad scope: the Blackhawks played a tremendous second period but Darling had to come up with some massive saves to keep this game going as long as it did. The Blackhawks will take this one, especially given that bad start. But they know there’s no reason to over-celebrate. Said Keith, “first game in a series. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played.”

Artemi Panarin thought he'd play whole career with Blackhawks

Artemi Panarin thought he'd play whole career with Blackhawks

The honest truth is that for the Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is the one that got away. A new truth, perhaps harder to swallow, is that the "Breadman" never wanted to leave.

Following the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Rangers Wednesday, in which Panarin scored his 30th goal of the season, he told the Daily Herald's John Dietz he expected to play his entire career in a Blackhawks sweater.

"When I played here in Chicago I [thought] I would play here my whole life," said Panarin, whose 79 points are good for fifth in the league this season. "And then that happened. It still confuses me."

Panarin, now 28, had 151 points (61 goals, 90 assists) with Chicago in two seasons after signing a free-agent contract on May 1, 2015. The winger previously played in the Kontinental Hockey League before winning the Calder Trophy in 2016 as the NHL's top rookie. 

Panarin immediately established an undeniable chemistry with Patrick Kane, which aided Kane in grabbing the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP in 2016.

"Obviously an amazing player, a player that you'd pay to watch play the game," Kane said of Panarin. "Still try to stay pretty close with him and stay in contact and just kind of catch up here and there throughout the season."

During his second season with Chicago, Panarin agreed to a two-year $12 million contract, when he could have gotten more elsewhere. 

In June 2017, the Blackhawks traded the dynamic winger to the Columbus Blue Jackets, along with forward Tyler Motte and a draft pick, to re-acquire Brandon Saad and get goalie Anton Forsberg and a pick. 

"I was not ready for that," Panarin said. "It was a big surprise for me. I feel bad after trade."

Now, the man of bread is locked up for six more years after this one with the Rangers at an AAV north of $11.6 million and his contract has a no movement clause. 

"I love Chicago," Panarin said. "Nice every time I come here. Enjoy it. It's a great city and thanks [to] the fans for a warm welcome. I appreciate it."

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Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Effort has not been a major concern for the Blackhawks this season. For the most part it's been there, and you could see it over the last two months when they started to string together a run.

But Wednesday, it was.

The Blackhawks didn't have a great first period. They had a decent second. Things went off the rails in the third. 

The Blackhawks lost focus, and the compete level wasn't nearly where it needed to be in their first home game in exactly two weeks after giving up five third-period goals, four of which came in a span of 7:08.

"Makes you angry," head coach Jeremy Colliton said following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers. "Because it's a game that you're looking for like, we needed this game. We didn't do the things right from the start to put ourselves in the best position to win. We just didn't have enough guys ready to play."

The Blackhawks picked up two out of a possible 10 points on their five-game road trip in Western Canada, but that wasn't necessarily indicative of how they played. All five games were there for the taking but they squandered opportunities to do so. A power-play goal here or there could've been the difference, but instead their drought is now up to 0-for-17 in their past six games.

It was a tough road trip for the Blackhawks, not just because they didn't get the desired results, but because it was a demanding travel schedule that started and ended in Winnipeg. But they wouldn't use that as an excuse even though it's a valid one at this time of year.

"To me, the story of the game tonight is, you're going to have games throughout the year where you don't have energy, where it's hard to find," Jonathan Toews said. "You've got to find the motivation to go out there and play your best game. It's just a mental thing that you have to do and that's just the name of the game, playing NHL hockey. That's one of the challenging things that if you want to make the playoffs and you want to be a winning team you're not going to feel at your best every night.

"There's going to be tough travel, tough schedule, a lot of adversity, things that pile up in your way and you've got to find a way to overcome it. So we didn't do that tonight." 

With Wednesday's loss, the Blackhawks fell to 1-5-2 in their past eight games after going 12-5-0 in their previous 17. They remain eight points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference but have four teams to jump, two of which have a game in hand.

Playoffs seem like a pipedream at this point, and you have to wonder how this latest spiral could impact the Blackhawks' plans ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline. It's always a challenging time of year for players, especially on teams on the outside looking in, but that doesn't mean it's time to wave the white flag.

"We have to think really short-term," Colliton said. "And that's tomorrow, how are we going to prepare? Because we didn't prepare well enough. The coaches have to do a better job of preparing the team, the team needs to do a better job of preparing each other, and individually they've got to do a better job of preparing themselves to play."

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