Blackhawks

Five Things: A quiet captain in Blackhawks-Blues Game 7

Five Things: A quiet captain in Blackhawks-Blues Game 7

ST. LOUIS – The time ticked away for the Blackhawks a lot faster than normal this postseason.

Gone is the chance to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, something an NHL team hasn’t done in about 20 seasons. The Blackhawks were stunned and frustrated moments after their 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues, who eliminated them in seven games. For hockey fans, it was a thrilling series full of twists, turns and one-goal games. For the Blackhawks, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

But there it is nonetheless. So before we make that one final drive up Interstate 55, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ loss to the Blues.

1. It’s a former teammate’s moment. Troy Brouwer joked on Sunday that his Game 7 record wasn’t the greatest; he was 2-4 entering this one. But he made up for that record with his game- and series-winning goal for the Blues. The Blues didn’t have much Game 7 experience coming into this one; certainly not compared to the Blackhawks. Brouwer, who won a Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, gave the Blues the big-game experience, and goal, the team needed. Said Brouwer on scoring the winner, “It means a lot to me. It means a lot to the team and the franchise. We've had a long, tough season and to see us get rewarded like this, especially against a division rival like the Hawks in such dramatic fashion, it’s all smiles around here right now.”

2. Tough series for Jonathan Toews. Last postseason, Toews had some of the team’s biggest goals at the most critical times (please see Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks in last spring’s Western Conference final). Toews had six assists in this series, but no goals. It was a surprise sight, considering Toews usually has a say in games like this. Toews said, “There’s always second-guessing and thinking what you could’ve done differently. I like to think I had my chances and times in the past. Kept telling myself, I think it was going to be an important time where I find a way to score a big one and right to the end I was telling myself that on those last draws in their zone. Just didn’t get to the puck. Obviously it’s kind of tough to think of what you could’ve done differently in those situations to alter the result.”

3. Andrew Shaw, Blackhawks leading scorer. Didn’t think you’d see that through the first round, did you? But there it was nonetheless. Shaw’s power-play goal in the second period gave him a team-leading four goals in his six games of this series – he was suspended for Game 5. Shaw can commit the bad penalties. He can also supply those greasy goals, and he did that plenty in the first round.

4. Andrew Ladd’s quiet postseason. When the Blackhawks acquired Ladd from the Winnipeg Jets, they knew what they were getting. They knew what he did in 2010 and hoped he would bring firepower in the postseason. But Ladd had just one goal and one assist and both of those came in Game 6. The combination of he and Toews was supposed to bolster the Blackhawks’ scoring. It didn’t.

5. Playing with fire too often. For the second consecutive time the Blackhawks trailed by two goals at some point. This time it was early, as the Blues took a 2-0 lead in the first 14 minutes of the game. Yes, the Blackhawks tied it in the second period. But they knew the Blues were going to come out strong, knew the Blues were going to try to prove they could finally best the Cup champions. The Blackhawks couldn’t dig their way completely out of this hole.

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

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."

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."