Five Things from Game 1: Blackhawks need more traffic again


Five Things from Game 1: Blackhawks need more traffic again

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Blackhawks have been here enough not to let one loss get them too concerned.

Still, they’ll head into Game 2 of the Western Conference Final in a very unfamiliar position this postseason: trailing in a series. But, these things happen. So before we head out for the day let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 4-1 loss to the Anheim Ducks.

1. David Rundblad struggles in his playoff debut. When Michal Rozsival went down in Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks’ lack of depth at defense was suddenly exposed. Rundblad had a forgettable first playoff game on Sunday, from his clearing attempt near the blue line in the first period to his bad pass near the net in the second period. Both plays resulted in Ducks goals. We’ll hit more on this defensive issue in a separate story but there’s no doubt those mistakes were critical.

2. Missed opportunities on the power play. Yes, this is the broken record that is playing again, and we’re looking specifically at the early third period this time. Brad Richards had just gotten the Blackhawks back into it with a late second-period goal and the Blackhawks had two power plays in the first five-plus minutes of the third. They didn’t score on either of them. Part of that was Frederik Andersen coming up with big stops, including one on Brandon Saad on the first power play. Coach Joel Quenneville called it “the turning point” with the Blackhawks not even getting momentum off the power plays. Asked about the advantage, Patrick Kane said, “it could be better, for sure.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Andersen plays well again. The Ducks goaltender was a bit of a wildcard entering this round. Sure, he played great vs. the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames, but how would he handle the onslaught from the Blackhawks? He did just fine in Game 1, from his unreal stick save on Kane to the other 31 stops he made en route to another playoff victory. Said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau of Andersen, “I think he's getting more confidence. He's played through two rounds now. He's seen the pressure that comes with it. He's had a long time to get ready for this game.”

4. Blackhawks need more traffic again. Yes, Andersen was good, there’s no denying that. But Quenneville said the Blackhawks could have gotten in his way a lot more than they did on Sunday. “Kaner had a great look early and [Andersen] got some excitement to his game. But we’re more successful when he has a hard time trying to see through screens and second layers,” Quenneville said. “They blocked a lot of shots too. We need quicker shot selections and more bodies at the net, get one [goal] and go from there.”

5. Ducks get the secondary scoring. Look at the Game 1 score sheet and you don’t see the big names much. Kyle Palmieri scored the game winner. Nate Thompson’s goal gave the Ducks a 3-1 lead. Both are part on Ducks’ third line. That’s what you need at this time of year because, as it’s been said before, the top two lines sometimes cancel each other out. It was just one game but it shows the Ducks have solid forward depth.

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


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


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."