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.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."