Blackhawks

Late-period goals hurting Blackhawks

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Late-period goals hurting Blackhawks

The Blackhawks were feeling pretty good about the first period of Game 2 on Friday night.

They had withstood the Nashville Predators’ early shot onslaught, giving up just one, and Patrick Sharp’s hard-working shift led to him tying the game a few minutes later.

Then it happened, a Roman Josi shot to give the Predators a 2-1 lead. That was tough enough. What was worse was it came with 3.6 seconds remaining in the first period. For the Predators, who were already playing well, it was the hockey equivalent of a B12 shot. For the Blackhawks, it was a kick to the gut. And it would happen again in the second period, albeit not quite as late.

[MORE: Blackhawks: Scott Darling gets the start in Game 3]

“The two important shifts are late in periods, both the first and second. They tie it up and take the lead back,” Brad Richards said following the Blackhawks’ 6-2 loss in Game 2 of their first-round series. “We have to finish out the periods stronger. If we go in with 1-1, 2-2 tie going into those other periods, it might be a different story.”

Ultimately it was the Predators’ three-goal barrage in the third period that doomed the Blackhawks, who host Game 3 at 2 p.m. on Sunday. But those late-period goals do hurt. Josi’s was a killer. Craig Smith’s goal, which put the Predators up 3-2 with just over five minutes remaining in the second period, proved to be the game-winner.

“It’s tough,” Brent Seabrook said via conference call on Saturday. “Going in after the first period, you’re looking like you’ll get out of it with a 1-1 tie. Giving up that late goal is tough but all those things, you want to be out there in the last minutes of periods, for the starts of periods, for goals and goals against. But those are areas we have to be better in.”

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The late-period goals are two examples of bigger issues the Blackhawks have had so far: despite the series being tied, the Blackhawks have given up too many prime opportunities in both games. Corey Crawford’s Game 2 struggles didn’t help but neither he nor Scott Darling have gotten much support. In two games, the Predators have fired 89 shots on Blackhawks goaltenders; 54 of those came in the double-overtime Game 1, but that is still a lot.

The Blackhawks are in the thick of this series, thanks in large part to Scott Darling’s tremendous performance in Game 1. He faced 42 shots in his relief outing, which was basically a game plus about eight minutes. The Blackhawks need to limit the Predators’ chances. They also have to make sure those late-period shots don’t become daggers.

“We have to continue to keep working as a team,” Seabrook said. “Nashville does a good job of making plays in the neutral zone, converging on the net with traffic and second opportunities. As a group, five men on the ice with our goaltender, we have to continue to get in lanes, putting sticks in front and moving bodies out. Nashville does a good job of converging and getting second opportunities. We have to limit those as best we can.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”