Blackhawks

History may not be on the side of the Blackhawks this time around

History may not be on the side of the Blackhawks this time around

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – History teaches us plenty. It's a great guide to show us what worked, what didn't in the past.

For the Blackhawks, recent playoff history has been good. Even when they've been down in a series, the Blackhawks have shown great resolve. They've come back from 0-2 and 3-1 deficits to win series against St. Louis and Detroit, respectively, rallied from 0-3 against Vancouver in 2011 to force a Game 7, which they lost in overtime.

With each deficit the Blackhawks have faced in this series against the Nashville Predators, we've looked back on their history, looked for some instance in which they've been here, done this before and can do it again.

But in this case, there may not really be a good comparison.

The last time the Blackhawks trailed 3-0 in a series was that first-round tilt against Vancouver in 2011. But as coach Joel Quenneville said about that on Monday night, "that was a long time ago. Different group here."

That team was coming off its first Stanley Cup in decades and the salary-cap purge that followed. Even going down 3-0, there were more positives to take from those three games. There were a few more contributions across the board offensively. The Blackhawks were shut out in that first game vs. Vancouver but scored six goals over the next two contests.

And while the Blackhawks were pared down to the core that's still relatively intact today, that core was six years younger with a lot less mileage on it. Stanley Cup runs, Olympics, World Cup, whether players or coaches want to admit it, it all has to take its toll.

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If there is any similarity between then and now it's the Blackhawks' mantra, which is the one any team takes when it's down 3-0 in a series.

"Obviously, it's not the situation or position we want to be in, being down 3-0, but take it one game at a time, one shift at a time, one period at a time," Duncan Keith said. "Anything can happen. We've got to stay positive in here and try to win that first shift and go from there."

Do you rule a comeback completely out? Of course not. It's the Blackhawks and it's the postseason, so anything is possible. Four teams in NHL history have come back to win a series after being down 3-0, two from a while back (1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders) and two recently (2010 Philadelphia Flyers and 2014 Los Angeles Kings). Quenneville referenced the last two on Tuesday.  

"We played Philly in the finals in 2010. They were down 3-0 and they go to the finals. L.A., down 3-0 first round to San Jose, and win a Cup. So, I know it's a gigantic hole we've put ourselves in here, but those are two pretty good examples of being around to see," he said.

Again, anything is possible. But the Blackhawks' performances are going to have to get a lot better at lot quicker. In the first three games they've played one really good period, and that was the second on Monday night.

The Blackhawks face a Herculean task starting with Thursday night's game. It can be done. History has shown us it can be. But considering how the Blackhawks have played so far this series, this history will be even that much tougher to make.

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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Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

During the Blackhawks' training camp festival on Sept. 15, coach Jeremy Colliton discovered a combination he's grown to like in David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad. And it's the only trio that's stuck together through training camp and into the regular season.

On paper, it's not a sexy line. But they all bring different elements and it's translating to on-ice success.

When the three of them are on the ice together at even strength, the Blackhawks are controlling 59.7 percent of the shot attempts, 68.6 of the scoring chances and 76.9 percent of the high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

When they aren't on the ice at even strength? The Blackhawks are controlling 47.6 percent of the shot attempts, 46.2 percent of the scoring chances and 41.7 percent of the high-danger chances. 

Those are ridiculous numbers for a third line, and they're doing it against top competition, too.

On Saturday against Winnipeg, the Saad-Kampf-Kubalik line was tasked with going up against the Jets' Big Three of Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and held them to three shots on goal for and three against in 14:06 of 5-on-5 ice time together. And on Monday against Edmonton, it kept one of the best lines in hockey in check, with Leon Draisaitl, Zack Kassian and Connor McDavid recording a minus-6 shot attempt differential in 15:25 of 5-on-5 ice time together.

The biggest mistake Colliton has made this season was separating the trio in the home opener after Kubalik scored a goal and recorded five shots on goal in the first period. He wanted to get the first line going and provide a spark by rewarding Kubalik, but the third line was dominant in the opening 20 minutes — it generated 10 scoring chances at 5-on-5 in only 4:30 together — and moving Kubalik away from Kampf and Saad really affected both lines in a negative way.

But don't expect Colliton to make that same mistake anytime soon. He learned his lesson and that's the last line he's going to touch if he's looking for a shakeup.

"They all just got real big motors, big engine," Colliton said. "They work and compete and they all bring a little bit different ingredient. Obviously like Saad is an accomplished, proven performer. He takes the puck to the net. He's a horse there. He's really hard to get the puck off, he transports it from D zone to the offensive zone, he can make those plays.

"I think Kampy is a workhorse. He takes a lot of responsibility defensively and can transport the puck from one end to another. Then you got Kubby, he's got a bomb. I've been very impressed with his play away from the puck. That's been a surprise for me. So now he can play on that line because he does so many responsible things. He wins a lot of races, he's a great forechecker. So, pleased with that line."

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