Blackhawks

Huge second period from Blackhawks forces Game 7 vs. Ducks

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Huge second period from Blackhawks forces Game 7 vs. Ducks

Finding ways to win, finding ways to finish off series or finding ways to extend series: the Blackhawks have experience in all of those facets. And on Wednesday night, facing elimination, they executed that third one pretty darn well.

Duncan Keith had three assists during the Blackhawks three-goal second period as they went on to beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-2 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. The Blackhawks force a Game 7, which will be on Saturday night in Anaheim.

The Blackhawks are now 31-0 when leading after two periods and they handed the Ducks their first regulation loss of this postseason. From their flurry of second-period goals – three in three minutes, 45 seconds – to Andrew Shaw’s first of two goals stymieing the Ducks’ growing pressure in the third, the Blackhawks got exactly what they needed to send this series to the limit.

“It’s huge,” said Shaw, who also added an empty-net goal with 49 seconds remaining in regulation. “We stuck to our game. They played great hockey, and we knew it. We expected it. It’s just weathering that storm. Once they got that one, their team is going to keep going and going. We just fought through it, stuck to our guns.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The first period wasn’t nearly as full of fireworks as Game 5’s. For the Blackhawks, that was a good thing. And in the second, they exploded for their three goals. Brandon Saad started it, taking Patrick Kane’s pass, beating Hampus Lindholm with his speed and Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen with his shot for a 1-0 lead. Marian Hossa was next to score, taking a feed from Duncan Keith after he waited just long enough, for a 2-0 lead. About 90 seconds after that goal it was Kane from the slot, his goal just trickling past Andersen for a 3-0 edge.

Not surprisingly, the Ducks weren’t finished. Patrick Maroon’s power-play goal got the Ducks within two, 3-1, late in the second and Clayton Stoner scored early in a third period the Ducks looked to dominate. The Ducks had the possession time and the majority of shots – the Blackhawks had just four the entire period. But before the Ducks scored again, Andrew Shaw muscled his way to a backhand goal and a 4-2 Blackhawks lead.

“Yeah, it was a huge play,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Give [primary assister Andrew Desjardins] credit and Shawzy a boost as well, because he made a great shot in a hard area. That slowed the push coming our way against a team that feels so good about [itself] in the third period and has so many weapons. They can force and pressure and they’re good at it. That definitely relieved some of the pressure we were getting.”

[WATCH: Blackhawks explode for three goals in second period]

The pressure is still there, but now it’s on both teams heading in to Game 7. The Blackhawks have been here, done this plenty in the past few seasons. The Ducks will try not to blow another 3-2 postseason lead.

Neither team has won two games in a row in this series, just in case you needed another example of how close this matchup has been. The Blackhawks have found a way to get to another Game 7 after being down in a series. They toppled Detroit two years ago. They came close to doing the same to the Kings last year. Now they’ll try, once again, to find a way to advance.

“Both teams have found it tough, obviously putting two wins back to back. We’ve done a good job of coming back hard after a loss, evening up the series and giving ourselves a chance to stay alive. And they’ve done a good job of going back, stealing the momentum when we haven’t,” Jonathan Toews said. “When you get to this point, everyone says Game 7, anything can happen. That’s what we truly believe. We have to try to change that [no-consecutive-victories) trend on the next one.”

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.