Blackhawks

Hawks fighting for their playoff lives once again

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Hawks fighting for their playoff lives once again

The Chicago Blackhawks wanted to avoid last seasons mad dash to the playoffs. They wanted a great start to this season to give them some cushion, to put themselves in a good spot so they werent sweating out those final regular-season games.

They got the start. But a rough February has them exactly where they didnt want to be: uncertain and fighting for their postseason lives.

The Blackhawks have 17 games remaining to hold onto their current sixth-place spot, or to move up, in the Western Conference. They had that leeway on Jan. 20, when a victory over the Florida Panthers had them sitting pretty with 64 points. But with a nine-game winless streak and generally skittish play since, the Blackhawks have gained just 11 points since then (75 points).

Theyve gotten into that dangerous territory again. And now with the pressure of staying in the top eight, every one of their remaining regular-season games is going to feel like a playoff game.

You try not to think about it but thats how its going to feel. Either you like it or you dont but right now were in that spot, Marian Hossa said. Now we have to go game by game, especially on this road trip. Its going to be a good challenge; were going to see where were at.

And the Blackhawks hope they see themselves somewhere in the top eight. With 17 games remaining, how many points will it take to assure then of that? Last season, the Blackhawks took eighth place with 97 points. The season before, it was 95 points; 91 points earned eighth place in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Duncan Keiths had his eye on the standings.

Its important to understand that, first and foremost, to know where were at, he said. Its just about knowing our situation and knowing how important every game is.

Now its about getting there. The Blackhawks have struggled for consistency for more than a month now, and their schedule wont be breezy. Theyve got Central Division foes Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville two more times each. This trip of Ottawa, the Red Wings and Blues on the road will be tough.

We have to be better on the road, said coach Joel Quenneville, whose Blackhawks are 12-17-3 away from the United Center this season. With three teams playing as good as any are, we need to be strong in a lot of areas. We need our A game tonight. We dont want to look past tonights game. Lets be ready from the start, sound, responsible.

The Blackhawks will focus on one at a time but the big picture looms large. It looked like they were going to avoid this intense finale this season. Now theyre battling once again for their postseason lives.

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

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AP

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

The youth movement is underway in Chicago and it's happening quicker than expected.

Adam Boqvist played in his 10th NHL game of the season on Sunday, officially triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. That means he will become a restricted free agent at end of the 2021-22 season. If he appeared in nine games or fewer, his contract wouldn't have kicked in until next season, which would've bought the Blackhawks an extra year of Boqvist playing at a cap hit of $894,167.

"Maybe that was a discussion very early on but as far as coach perspective, we like him," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he and GM Stan Bowman had conversations about burning Boqvist's first year. "I think he's played well and it's an opportunity with some injuries to give him some ice time. He's handled it well so far."

Boqvist is the second rookie on the Blackhawks this season to burn their first year, joining No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach. Whether the decisions were dictated by circumstances or not, the Blackhawks have seen enough of both of them to feel they can have an impact on the team in the short term without hindering their developments in the long term.

The number to watch now is 40. Like Dach, if Boqvist appears in 40 or more games this season, it will count as a full season and bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency. Any player that's accrued seven full seasons or is at least 27 years old as of June 30 of that respective year can become an unrestricted free agent.

Boqvist appeared in six games for the Blackhawks during the month of November before getting reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14 when Connor Murphy was ready to return from his groin injury.

But with Calvin de Haan (shoulder) expected to be out long term and Duncan Keith still out with a groin injury, the Blackhawks called up Boqvist for insurance and because they lacked defensemen with offensive upside. It appears he will remain with the big club for the time being and it serves as a chance for their No. 8 overall pick in 2018 to prove he can handle NHL minutes on a consistent basis during a desperate time for the Blackhawks.

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Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild

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USA TODAY

Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild

As things seemingly spiraled out of control for the Blackhawks, who had lost four straight games - being outscored 14-6 in their past three - and going 3-8-2 in their past 13, they needed their top player to step up. Step up is exactly what Patrick Kane did Sunday night against a hot Minnesota Wild team. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ and 2013 Conn Smythe trophy winner scored two goals early in the first period before throwing the puck into the Wild's empy net for the 5-3 final score with a little over one minute remaining in regulation.

"It was nice to get one," Kane said of snagging his sixth career regular season hat trick. "You get two early on, you think, 'Maybe I have a chance at one.' Obviously it came a little bit later in the game, but huge fourth goal for us (from Brandon Saad) and I was able to finish it off with an empty net. Obviously that's a big win for us."

Kane made a wraparound attempt at 7:42 of the first period and the Minnesota Wild's Kaapo Kahkonen seemingly denied him with his left pad. However, the United Center crowd went crazy when they saw the replay of the attempt on the jumbotron. After a video review officials determined the puck completely crossed the goal line and the Hawks were up 1-0.

Kane recorded his second goal of the game, putting the Hawks up 2-0 at 11:33 of the first, scoring from the slot off a give-and-go with Jonathan Toews on Chicago's first power play of the game. 

"Showtime" scored into the Wild's empty net at 18:57 of the third period to complete the hat trick. It was his 18th goal of the season.

"He’s such a well-rounded player," Robin Lehner said of Kane. "I think as a goalie, going in practice every day against him, he has such patience with the puck and he’s so accurate with his shot. 

"He doesn’t shoot in the conventional — just go high or try to go bar and in. He goes between the arms, between the legs, over the pads, you know it’s very hard as a goalie to get a read. 

"He waits you out and then it’s in. He had a hell of a game today. He’s one of our leaders and he stepped up and helped turn this around for us."

Kane felt he's been in a rut and knows when he's able to produce, it can give the team a lift.

"I don't think I've been playing as well the past 10 games or so," he said. "Want to start playing better for the team. If I play better it's obviously going to bring more to the group and (there's) a better chance for us to win. That's something we're all trying to do in here is take pride and ownership."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.