Blackhawks

Hawks-Preds: Who busts out of late-season slump first?

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Hawks-Preds: Who busts out of late-season slump first?

The Blackhawks left Colorado not thrilled with the end to their regular season but certainly not demoralized by it either.

“We’ll be fine: get to practice and get excited about Monday (is) where we’re at,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “All four games, tight games, comparable losses.”

The Nashville Predators were probably feeling the same way, given they went winless in their last six regular-season games (0-4-2). The Blackhawks’ problem was they couldn’t score goals. The Preds’ problem was they couldn’t stop opponents from scoring them.

But as the two teams get set to meet in their first-round matchup later this week, the question is obvious: Which team shakes its late regular-season doldrums first?

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Now Blackhawks turn their attention to Predators]

The Blackhawks soon head to Nashville, where they’ll face the Predators in Game 1 on Wednesday and Game 2 on Friday. After another loss to end to the regular season on Saturday — a 3-2 loss to the Avalanche — the Blackhawks sounded relatively upbeat and ready to start the postseason.

Still, they know facing the Predators, who they haven’t seen since Dec. 29, won’t be easy. The Blackhawks have struggled to score goals, managing just five in their last four games. Now they get to try and solve Pekka Rinne.

“Obviously, the last four or five games here we haven’t scored enough goals, and it’s not going to be easier playing against Nashville,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We have to find a way to get people in front of the net more and get more rebounds and just more shots and just work him that way.”

For the Predators, giving up goals has been the problem. Whether it’s defense or Rinne, the numbers haven’t been good. Rinne gave up 14 goals in his last four regular-season starts, in which he went 0-2-2.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get a Niklas Hjalmarsson jersey right here]

So how much do late regular-season losing streaks affect a team? Quenneville said it doesn’t matter much at all.

“It starts fresh,” he said of the postseason. “Everything’s even.”

Well, maybe for some teams that’s true. Take the Los Angeles Kings last year, who went 1-2-2 down the stretch, lost the first three games to San Jose in the first round, then took off and won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Then there are last year’s St. Louis Blues, who dealt with injuries and a poor late-season record heading into the playoffs. They took the first two games from the Blackhawks, thanks to comebacks late in each contest, but then lost the next four.

If postseason experience is any benefit, the Blackhawks have plenty. Much like the Kings, they’ve usually saved their best for this time of year, regardless of how that last part of the 82-game schedule went. In facing a revamped Nashville team that’s hungry to become a playoff threat, the Blackhawks will need to tap into that same mindset now.

Neither the Blackhawks nor the Predators got the desired results these last few games. As Quenneville said, however, the slate is clean. Now we’ll see which team starts writing the more successful playoff story.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.

Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period

Well, things could be going better for the Blackhawks during Sunday's game against the Lightning.

In the second period Sunday, the Blackhawks surrendered 33 shots on goal, tying a franchise record for most in a single period. The previous instance occurred March 4, 1941 against the Boston Bruins, a game that the Blackhawks lost 3-2.

While the Blackhawks tied a franchise record for shots on goal allowed, they actually set an NHL record at the same time. The NHL did not begin recording shots on goal as an "official" statistic until the 1997-98 season.

Consequentially, Sunday's 33 shots on goal allowed in the second period is the "official" record, even though the Blackhawks accomplished the "feat" nearly 80 years ago. Confusing, huh? 

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they also surrendered three goals and scored zero in addition to the plethora of shots on goal allowed. They recorded just six shots on goal in the second period themselves, trailing 4-1 by the time the third period started.