Blackhawks

Five Things: Blackhawks' stars come up big vs. Blues in Game 5

Five Things: Blackhawks' stars come up big vs. Blues in Game 5

ST. LOUIS – So how is everyone’s blood pressure now?

We’re guessing it was through the roof at the end of the third period, when the Blackhawks’ 3-1 lead had turned into a 3-3 tie with the St. Louis Blues. We’re guessing it was even higher through that first overtime, when the Blackhawks seemed to be in penalty kill mode and the Blues were more than happy to attack.

But that’s all over. With Kane’s game-winner, blood pressures are once again calm – for now. So while you all catch your breath, read our Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Blues.

1.    Patrick Kane’s first goal of this postseason. Well, it took a while and a change up in the lines for him to get it, but Kane was once again scoring a postseason game-winner. The Blackhawks had been looking for goals from their top stars for a few games now. Kane, once again paired with Jonathan Toews on the top line, finally got his at the best possible time.

2.    Corey Crawford holds up in overtime. Crawford was probably as frustrated as anyone when the Blues tied this game 3-3 late in regulation, although David Backes’ redirect was just a thing of beauty. Whatever angst Crawford was feeling, however, he didn’t show it in overtime. He stopped 11 shots in the first overtime, part of his 43-stop performance on the night. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “he was great. He was around the net, quick. They make side-to-side passes frombehind the net, he challenges at the right time, he was big and he was on top of it. “

3.    Artemi Panarin’s second period. The 24-year-old, coming off a great regular season, was a big reason why the Blackhawks had a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes on Thursday. Artem Anisimov scored off his rebound but the bigger moment was when Panarin scored with just 0.4 seconds remaining in the second. Panarin wasn’t part of the massive line changes the Blackhawks underwent heading into Game 5. For him, familiarity, especially with Anisimov, was the best recipe.

4.    Hello, Marian Hossa. The right wing was one of several top forwards who were still goal-less entering Game 4 of this series. Hossa ended his drought with a short-handed goal midway through the first period. He was also critical on defense as he and line mates Marcus Kruger and Andrew Ladd had the tough task of trying to quell Vladimir Tarasenko. It worked –Tarasenko was held off the scoresheet.

5.    They survive. Even though the first period ended in a scoreless tie, the Blackhawks didn’t look like they had much life. What life they did get with their 3-1 lead following the second period could have been erased when the Blues tied it in the third, but it wasn’t. This Blackhawks team isn’t as deep and isn’t always as composed as past squads, but their ability to stick around and pull games out of the fire remains.

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.