Blackhawks

Kane breaks out of slump as Hawks top Panthers

648038.png

Kane breaks out of slump as Hawks top Panthers

Patrick Kanes scoring drought has been tough on him. The frustration had built and at times, after great chances went by the wayside, hed look skyward and shake his head.

I kind of even forgot how to celebrate, to be honest with you, Kane said.

Maybe Fridays performance will jog his memory.

Kane scored his first goal since early this month, and Jonathan Toews scored his 27th goal of the season as the Blackhawks beat the Florida Panthers 3-1 at the United Center on Friday night.

The game was delayed a half hour due to the inclement weather here in Chicago, but it was another victory for the Blackhawks, who have now won five of their last six games. They enter Saturdays matchup in Nashville with 64 points, the most in the NHL.

And it was also a relief for Kane, who hadnt scored since Jan. 5 in Philadelphia.

Yeah, it was a good feeling, Kane said. I didnt know what I was doing (on my goal celebration), but it was good to put one in.

Coach Joel Quenneville said he had three A-plus chances before that in the same period there. It was just a matter of time. The last couple games hes been trending with more quality looks. Its nice to get that one. I expect him to be more confident in those areas and keep it going.

Duncan Keith scored a power-play goal and Ray Emery got the victory, stopping 18 of 19 shots.

Kane and Toews each added an assist, as that top line was once again stellar. Stalberg said it was good to see his linemate find his scoring touch.

Hes been getting lots of chances, and it seems like hes in those areas right now, Stalberg said. Getting a goal like that probably helps him get more confidence. If we can get him scoring were going to be even more dangerous.

Toews goal came on a mini-breakaway and two great passes from Stalberg and Kane. Keiths goal, his first since Nov. 13 against Edmonton, came just over two minutes later.

The goalie wasnt able to see it because (Andrew Brunette) was doing a great job screening and (Nick Leddy) and (Marian) Hossa moved it around pretty good there, Keith said. I had some time to get a shot off there.

The Blackhawks team confidence is surging. A good winning streak and 64 points will do that for a group. Kanes been trying to get his confidence back. His goal on Friday could do that for him.

It was nice to come up for the team tonight and score a big one, Kane said. Any time you can score after a slump, and a lot of focus on it, its a good feeling.

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

Kirby Dach was taken by the Blackhawks with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on Friday.

On Monday, the Blackhawks introduced him to the city of Chicago. Dach took his first trip to Chicago for his introductory press conference.

Later in the day, the Canadian threw out the first pitch at the Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Dach didn't throw a strike, but it wasn't a blooper reel pitch either.

Watch Dach's first pitch in the video above.

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.