Blackhawks

Five Things from Game 4: Blackhawks back with a bang

5-23-blackhawks-five-things.png

Five Things from Game 4: Blackhawks back with a bang

Overtime hockey: apparently the Blackhawks can’t get enough of it.

It didn’t seem like the Blackhawks were headed for it early in the third period but there we were again nonetheless, watching the game and another evening grow longer.

[MORE: Antoine Vermette wins it in double OT as Blackhawks tie series]

It’s great, isn’t it? Oh, come one, be it a Blackhawks or an Anaheim Ducks fan, you have to love this great, riveting, dramatic hockey, even if it does throw you off your schedule. But since tomorrow is still part of a holiday weekend, we trust you’ll get through it.

So before you sleep in, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 5-4 double-overtime victory over the Ducks.

1. Back in with a bang. Antoine Vermette, back in Game 4 after being a healthy scratch in Game 3, couldn’t have written a better ending for himself in this one with his game-winning goal. Vermette wasn’t making it about him, deflecting the scratch talk and putting the team first. But others were happy to speak up on his behalf. Said Brad Richards, “it shows his professionalism. No one is happy being out of the lineup. He went out and scored maybe the biggest goal of his career. Hats off to him.”

2. Forgetting about that three-goal outburst. When the Ducks scored three goals in 37 seconds of the third period, the air went out of the United Center. While coach Joel Quenneville was thinking the timeout he called prior to Corey Perry’s go-ahead goal was “the worst time out I ever called,” the Blackhawks weren’t panicking. It’s part of their playoff DNA to keep their heads and find a way to regroup, and they did.

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

3. Corey Crawford key in OT. Any goaltender would be lamenting three goals in a short time span, whether they were his fault or not. But Crawford saved his best work for the first overtime, when he stopped 17 Ducks shots. He’d face four more in the second overtime before Vermette’s winner.

4. Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad score. The top line had been too quiet in the first three games of this series but Toews and Saad got things going in Game 4. Saad, with a little help from referee Chris Rooney (he got tangled up with Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin), scored a short-handed breakaway goal early. Toews scored early in the thirdperiod. It was the first goal for each since the Minnesota series. As Toews said of his goal, “finally got a bounce. That’s what I was waiting for.”

5. Don’t count out the Ducks. Ever. Ah, the old two-goal lead: it’s never safe, is it? That’s what the Blackhawks were up before the Ducks went on their barrage. The Ducks are good; they are very good. They have the firepower, they had the big bodies and they are still blocking a lot of shots (34 in Game 4). This series is going to remain riveting.

5 things we have learned after the Blackhawks first 5 games

blackhawks_celebrating_usa_today.png
USA TODAY

5 things we have learned after the Blackhawks first 5 games

The Blackhawks hahve played five games, all five went to over time, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each have five goals.

So here are five things we've learned from the Blackhawks first five games.

1.    Blackhawks have a flair for the dramatic:

They are the first team in NHL history with 5 straight overtime games to begin a season. According to Elias, It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL. Not only have they not lost a game in regulation, but they have rallied in the third period in four of their five games. No final period rally was more dramatic than the home opener, when Patrick Kane & Auston Matthews had a three goal trade-off in a :56 second span, complete with a celly battle.

2.    Toews looks like a different player:

Or should I say, he looks like the guy who played a huge role in three Stanley Cups. The captain is faster, hard on the puck and making plays that we haven’t seen in the last few years. His nine points are tied with line-mate Alex DeBrincat for the team lead and amongst the top point getters in the league. Toews said before the season that he was humbled by missing the playoffs and it’s clear he heard the criticism about his lack of offensive production. Hard work this summer and solid chemistry with DeBrincat and Dominik Kahun have paid off in the first two weeks. Toews said he wanted to get back to having fun and so far, he’s had plenty to smile about.

3.    Power Play still needs to be fixed:

It was a major issue last season(ranked 28th) and it’s still a concern this year. They have only cashed in on 2 of 18 power plays, which ranks them 23rd in the NHL. I like the 1-3-1 set up and top unit that includes Kane, Toews, Schmaltz, DeBrincat and Jokiharju. They made a tweak last game, putting DeBrincat at the top of the slot and Schmaltz at the left circle. They are hoping to take advantage of Cat’s quick and accurate shot. The other concern on the power play is the entries. They continue to use the drop pass as their primary way to enter the zone. It’s not been very successful this season. They may need to install one more option on the entry. The bottom line, they won’t make the playoffs if their power play ranks in the bottom third of the league.

4.    Blackhawks blue line is still a work in progress:

Henri Jokiharju has been a tremendous addition to a group that was a major question mark entering the season. Jokiharju is the second best defenseman on the team right now and with Duncan Keith, they are a legit top 4 pairing. The problem with the other two pairs are major inconsistencies. You will see a stretch of solid play, but it’s inevitably followed by a crucial turnover or defensive breakdown. In this loaded central division, a handful of defensive miscues could be the difference in making the playoffs or being on the golf course in April.

5.    Cam isn’t Crow:

Cam Ward has been solid in his first 5 games as a Blackhawk. It’s actually incredible the Hawks are 3-0-2 when you consider Ward has a .879 Sv% and 4.07 GAA. Unlike last season’s fill-ins, Ward has been able to avoid the dreaded soft goal. It still looks like Corey Crawford could return Thursday against Arizona, or this weekend at the latest, when they play back-to-back tilts. Everyone is crossing their fingers that Crow will not experience any setbacks when he returns to the crease. Joel Quenneville said the team doesn’t like to carry 3 goalies, but they may be forced to do that, with uncertainty surrounding Crawford and Anton Forsberg having to pass through waivers before being sent to Rockford. Goaltending is everything in the NHL and in all likelihood the Blackhawks postseason chances still hinge on Crawford returning to the form we’ve seen the last several years.

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

brandon_saad_ap.jpg
AP

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."