Game 6 a 'fun, huge game' for Blackhawks


Game 6 a 'fun, huge game' for Blackhawks

Postseason elimination games are some of the most intense contests there are this time of year.

They’re frenzied, they’re pressure packed and they’re fun.

Wait: run that last one by us again?

“It's more fun to play these games than the normal games,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “When it's all on the line, I think that's what you want to play. You want to play at this time of year. You want to play elimination games [and] obviously come up on the winning side.”

All fun aside, the Blackhawks’ postseason is on the line when they host the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks are down 3-2 in this best-of-seven series, their late comeback coming up short in their 5-4 overtime loss in Game 5. The start was one of the Blackhawks’ most forgettable in quite some time. And if they start Game 6 even close to thatpoorly, they know they’ll be finished.

“We’ve got to play desperate right off the bat,” said Brandon Saad, who added the Blackhawks looked “like we were sleeping” to start Game 5. “Now we're in a situation where it's do or die: That's the team you're going to see. For some reason we started slow [Monday] and it was a big game for us. We need to steal one on the road. We didn't do it last night; we’ve got to do it in the future.”

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But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here with the future talk. The Blackhawks still have to win tomorrow to earn another trip to Anaheim for Game 7. Obviously the elimination possibility isn’t new to the Blackhawks; they were down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings in 2013 and faced the same deficit against the Los Angeles Kings lastspring. They beat the Wings, lost to the Kings. The past lessons and experiences are there, but coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks don’t have to look back far for inspiration.

“We can talk about different things going into games, you can visit history, you can look at past games, big games, big moments. There's a lot of history here that we've collected over seven years, a lot of positive things,” he said. “[But] I think we allcame out of last night's game with anger and a real sour taste in our mouth. Sometimes that can be better than a history lesson.”

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The Blackhawks know what the stakes are and they’ll be trying to stave off elimination at the United Center, where they’ve lost just one game this postseason. It’ll be intense. It’ll be stressful. But apparently, that’s part of the fun.

“We all know tomorrow is a fun, huge game for us,” Hjalmarsson said. “We’re all going to bring our best, for sure. We definitely will have to do a better job.”


- Trevor van Riemsdyk has skated for several days now and will do so again with the Blackhawks on Wednesday morning. So will van Riemsdyk play in Game 6? “We'll see,” Quenneville said. “I look forward to talking to him. He skated [Tuesday]; we’ll see how he is.”

- Bryan Bickell’s attempted dump-in pass hit Jakob Silfverberg and started the play that led to the Ducks’ game-winning goal. Asked if the criticism on Bickel is fair, Quenneville said, “it's a play. We talk about getting the pucks behind them and in deep. I'm sure he feels bad. They had to make a couple plays after that to put it in the net.”

- Quenneville left the door open for possible Game 6 lineup changes. “We’ll see how everybody looks tomorrow,” he said.

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

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


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."