Blackhawks

Jordin Tootoo ready for postseason opportunity with Blackhawks

Jordin Tootoo ready for postseason opportunity with Blackhawks

Jordin Tootoo was part of that Nashville Predators-Blackhawks series in 2010. Ask him what he remembers from those six games, and he gives a what-do-you-think smile.

"Marian Hossa taking a five-minute major, coming out of the penalty box and scoring the OT winner," Tootoo said with a laugh. "Basically sums it up."

Sure, that memory ranks high for many regardless of allegiance. But that series was also the start of a great, intense rivalry between the two teams, something that will resume on Thursday.

"Lot of emotions. Lot of battles, and that's what playoff hockey is all about. I think over the years, you create that energy and I think every guy wants to be a part of something special," he said. "I could remember when we tried to play the Blackhawks, it was going to be a battle. It's fun hockey."

Fast forward to the present day and for Tootoo, this series is about a few things. It's about facing his former team, with whom he started his career, went through some rough times and then started to get his life back together.

It's also about reality: at 34, Tootoo doesn't know how many more chances at a Stanley Cup he'll get. He wants to make the most of this one.

Tootoo will be part of the Blackhawks' fourth-line rotation when they open their first-round series against the Predators on Thursday night. He has been in and out of the lineup this season but has been good when he's played. His last game against the Predators, in which he scored his first goal with the Blackhawks, was one of his best of the season.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Tootoo has been a team-first guy all season.

"It's gotta be an exciting time for him. He has a great history there and certainly brought a lot to our team this year. He's been very well liked and accepted by his teammates, brings an element to our team you need at times and applied it at the perfect moments this year," Quenneville said. "He's worked hard as the season progressed and gives us an option to have that type of guy in our lineup. As we go along here, we'll see. But certainly put him in a position to start with us. You need that type of guy. He knows the role, job description and importance. We're looking forward for him to be a part of it."

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Tootoo has garnered teammates' respect, be it his work ethic – he's usually the first guy on the ice at practice – to his words. Tootoo gave a second-intermission pep talk prior to the Blackhawks scoring five third-period goals to beat the Colorado Avalanche, 6-3, on March 19. As far as being in the postseason lineup (at least for now), Tootoo is ready for the chance.

"At this point in my career, everything is a bonus here," Tootoo said. "But it's a business. For me, I try to use every day to get better both on and off the ice. It's a privilege to play this game and (this is) the best time of year – to be playing in the playoffs."

Nashville will always be a special part of Tootoo's life. He started his NHL career there, spent eight seasons there, began his now six years of sobriety there. Right now, however, the drive for the Stanley Cup looms larger. 
 
"I think personally, for me, you want to have a bit more bite, and I'm definitely going to have that," Tootoo said. "I played a lot of years in Nashville. I have great memories there. But I'm a Blackhawk now and I'm going to do whatever it takes."

Kirby Dach emerging as impact-type player for Blackhawks

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AP

Kirby Dach emerging as impact-type player for Blackhawks

One of the top storylines going into Blackhawks training camp this season was whether Kirby Dach would be ready to make the jump to the NHL full-time. It was a goal of his, too, ever since he got drafted third overall in June.

But after exiting early in the final game of the 2019 Traverse City Prospect Tournament, Dach was placed in concussion protocol at the start of camp and didn't appear in any preseason games for the Blackhawks. It was a challenge to stay positive throughout the recovery process, but Dach knew he would eventually get his chance.

And he's taken full advantage of it.

Dach made his NHL debut on Oct. 20 against the Washington Capitals and was lined up against Alex Ovechkin's line for the majority of the game, logging 13:41 of ice time as the second-line center. He scored his first career NHL goal two days later and registered an assist in his third game. Things were off to a great start.

But now Dach is starting to get more comfortable in the pros and his offense is coming more naturally.

"I’m starting to play good," Dach said. "I have a lot of confidence in myself and the team is playing good so I think that kind of helps out with individual success. When your team is going the right way and you’re winning games and scoring goals and your top players are producing — not saying I’m a top player or anything — but it helps a lot when everybody is going and we’re scoring."

After having only one point in his previous seven games, Dach has four goals and two assists in a four-game point streak. He scored twice in Sunday's 4-1 win over Vegas and joined Eddie Olczyk and Patrick Kane as the only 18-year-olds in franchise history to have a multi-goal game.

"He’s getting confident and he’s playing well," Kane said. "I think the biggest thing with him is he can skate with the puck and he can lug it up the ice. When you do that and you can drive the middle of the rink, there are going to be some opportunities for you and your linemates. You saw on both of his goals tonight, he drives to the middle, gets a pass and all of a sudden he’s in free. So that could be a big part of his game going forward but he’s really starting to feel some confidence."

Dach is up to nine points in 14 games this season, and his points-per-game average of 0.64 ranks fifth among all rookies. Only Cale Makar (1.10), Quinn Hughes (0.70), Martin Necas (0.70) and Victor Olofsson (0.70 rank ahead of him, but Dach is averaging the fewest amount of ice time (11:13) by a significant margin and is the only one on the list from the 2019 draft class.

"He's a tremendous talent," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "For him to step in as he has, he missed basically all of training camp and he's been a factor for us. He's helping us win. Got a lot of fun times ahead of us watching him develop and he's going to be a big-time player for us."

The biggest challenge for teenagers that break into the NHL right away is about staying true to who they are as a player. Most times, young players simply try to survive, and they get away from doing what they do best.

Dach isn’t showing any signs of timidness. He knows he can play at this level and wants to be an impact-type player in Chicago for a long time. 

And while he’s currently in a bottom-six role, expect Dach’s ice time to increase as he continues to prove himself as a high-end player. Because he can handle it.

"I feel kind of comfortable wherever I’m suited in the lineup," Dach said. "I just want to be in the lineup. I know whenever I step on the ice I have to be at my best to stay in the lineup and produce offensively, but at the same time make sure I’m good in my own zone and throughout the neutral zone. The one thing I’ve learned here is to have a good overall game and be a good 200-foot player."

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Four takeaways: Kirby Dach lifts Blackhawks to fourth straight win

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AP

Four takeaways: Kirby Dach lifts Blackhawks to fourth straight win

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks keep rolling

The Blackhawks were coming off their biggest win of the season, a 7-2 rout against the Predators just 24 hours ago in Nashville. And they followed that up with a strong 60-minute effort against the Sabres, who started out the season 8-1-1 but are since 1-6-2.

The Blackhawks have scored the first two goals in five of the past six games, and 21 goals during their four-game winning streak. They also improved to 4-0-0 on the second leg of a back-to-back this season.

"It’s nice to get on a little bit of a run here," Patrick Kane said. "It’s something we’ve been waiting for all season. We play pretty well in these back-to-backs so nice to put a little stretch together and feel good about our game. Obviously we’re getting production from all over the lineup right now and I think that’s key if you’re going to go on some winning stretches."

2. Corey Crawford stays hot

The Blackhawks are getting elite goaltending from Crawford and Lehner this season, especially as of late. Crawford came into the matchup with a 10-0-0 record, 2.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage against the Sabres.

He improved those numbers on Sunday, turning aside 33 of 34 shots for a save percentage of .971. He is now 3-0-2 in his past five starts after starting the season 1-4-0.

"I thought we played great defensively," Crawford said. "Even after playing last night, we really didn’t give up that much, I thought. And then got a lot more goals, too. That seems to be rolling for us right now."

3. Kirby Dach extends point streak

After recording only one point in his previous seven games, the Blackhawks' top prospect is starting to heat up. He scored twice on Sunday night to tally his fourth goal in as many games and fifth of his NHL career. He also finished with four shots on goal.

With the goal, Dach extended his career-high point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists over that span, and is up to nine points (five goals, four assists) in 14 games on the season.

Dach is the third 18-year-old in Blackhawks history to record a multi-goal game (regular season or playoffs), joining Eddie Olczyk (two goals vs. Detroit on April 10, 1985) and Patrick Kane (two goals vs. Columbus on Oct. 23, 2007). And he really tried completing the hat trick on his final shift with the help of Kane."

“I obviously wanted it pretty bad," Dach said. "Kaner gave me a couple of nice chances and I might owe him a steak dinner for missing those ones.”

4. Henri Jokiharju returns to Chicago

For the first time since being traded to the Sabres, Jokiharju returned to the United Center and did so as a member of the visitors. In fact, on his way into the arena he briefly got lost trying to find the changing room.

The Jokiharju trade was a controversial one because he was one of the Blackhawks' best defensemen last season, especially at the beginning of the season, and was traded for Alex Nylander, who was viewed as a reclamation project.

Jokiharju led the Blackhawks in even-strength ice time in his first 15 games under Joel Quenneville. But after the coaching change, Jokiharju's ice time averaged slipped and he was eventually sent to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

"I think it's a little bit how the coach see you as a player and as a person," Jokiharju said. "I think that was one of the issues in here."

Whether that's true or not, both teams seem to be benefitting from the trade so far. Jokiharju has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 19 games with the Sabres. Nylander has nine points (four goals, five assists) in 18 games.

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