Blackhawks

Five Things from Game 5: Blackhawks season on the brink

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Five Things from Game 5: Blackhawks season on the brink

ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was looking like the Blackhawks were going to pull another rabbit out of the hat, wasn’t it?

We’ve seen this movie before: Blackhawks find a way to get to overtime, Blackhawks play extended overtimes and Blackhawks win in overtime. But on Monday, the script was flipped, and quickly. The Ducks got an odd-man rush and cashed in, with Matt Beleskey’s rebound goal giving them a 5-4 victory just 45 seconds into overtime.

[MORE: Blackhawks rally falls short in Game 5 OT loss to Ducks]

Now the Blackhawks are up against it, facing elimination when they host Game 6 on Wednesday night. Will they stave it off and force a Game 7? Will they learn from their mistakes, especially all of those committed in the first period? We’ll find that out on Wednesday. Until then, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Ducks’ Game 5 victory over the Blackhawks.

1. Have to start better than that. For all the talk of urgency and getting off to a strong start, the Blackhawks were absent in the first 20 minutes. It was awful. They were awful. All comebacks aside, the Blackhawks had no excuses for their start, in which they got just three shots — and those came in the final 3:37 of the period — and trailed 3-0. Said Patrick Sharp, “Crucial game in their building, we know they’re going to come out with some pace and put a lot of pucks on net. They certainly did that and we weren’t ready to start the game.”

2. Don’t doubt Jonathan Toews. Entering Game 4, Toews still didn’t have a goal in this series. In the final 1:50 on Monday night, he scored twice to force the game to overtime. That’s what your top players do: they find a way. While that second goal was a terrible one for Frederik Andersen to give up — bad angle, off his leg — full marks to Toews for giving the Blackhawks a chance.

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3. Teuvo Teravainen providing a jolt. The forward shrugged off his Game 3 healthy scratch status, scoring a goal and an assist in Game 5. Teravainen could have been overwhelmed by the NHL playoff stage, this being his first time on it. Instead he’s been poised, and was part of a strong third line with Sharp and Antoine Vermette. “I’m confident. I’m a lot more confident out there [on the ice] than in the media right here,” Teravainen said to laughs. “That’s a good thing.”

4. Another three-goal period against the Blackhawks. The first period was the seventh — yes, seventh — time this postseason that the Blackhawks have given up three goals in a period. That’s not good. Again, good on the Blackhawks for coming back but they’re putting themselves in this position too often. Said Quenneville, “we have to kill that.”

5. [Post]season on the brink. Well, it comes to this: for all the times the Blackhawks call games “must-win,” Wednesday’s game truly is that. As Toews said, they’ve faced series deficits before and play their best when faced with critical situations. They need that on Wednesday, and they need it from the start this time.

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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How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

The Blackhawks turned in their best 60-minute effort of the young season in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. They controlled the pace of play, got terrific goaltending from Corey Crawford and tightened up defensively.

But they also showed that they added a new layer to their team game this season.

The Blackhawks registered 36 hits against the Oilers, one of which was thunderously delivered by Andrew Shaw, sparking a scrum. Brent Seabrook led the team with six hits, Calvin de Haan had five and Drake Caggiula and Olli Maatta each had four. Heck, even Alex DeBrincat (three) and Patrick Kane (one) got in on the action.

It’s an element of their game that’s been missing the last few seasons and something they feel is important to their overall team success because it keeps other teams honest.

"I don't know if it's because of the personnel we have or the way we want to be strong and competitive and win battles, but obviously the other night we had a lot of finished hits and a lot of physicality that brings up the morale on the bench, which is a good thing," Kane said. "You look at Shawzy's hit, the stuff he's been doing early in the season — whether it's scoring big goals or sticking up for guys after they get hit — it's been awesome for the team. That's something that can really help us. We also need to play a little bit more with the puck, but it's a way we can get the puck back."

The Blackhawks don’t necessarily want to lead the NHL in the hits category, but they do want to establish an identity centered around being a difficult team to play against and adding that dimension is part of it. So is team unity.

"I don't think it's going to be our go-to in the way we're going to beat teams," Jonathan Toews said. "There's no doubt we've got guys that can mix it in. We saw last game with Shawzy and Murph, and [Ryan Carpenter] and [Zack Smith] and go down the list of guys. Even [Caggiula] and [DeBrincat] were throwing the weight around a couple days ago. It's definitely part of our game — we can play with energy and I think it's going to be there when we're ready to go. But our game is puck possession and keeping teams in their end and outplaying them in that sense.”

Through four games this season, the Blackhawks are averaging 33.0 hits per game. The previous two seasons they averaged 16.5 and 16.8, respectively, which ranked 30th.

While it's still early, there's clearly an uptick in the physicality department and it's exactly what the organization was hoping for after bringing in players like Shaw and Smith to add some bite to the roster. The Blackhawks are focused on becoming a team that can win in several different ways and play any kind of style.

"There’s a difference between running around just trying to get a tick on the stat sheet," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But we definitely want to be physical when we have the chance and force the opposition to make plays before they're ready, and we can create turnovers and transition and offense and get out of D zone. We have some guys who like to play that way and I think it helps our team." 

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