Blackhawks

Now Blackhawks turn their attention to Predators

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Now Blackhawks turn their attention to Predators

Watch the first two games of the Blackhawks-Predators playoff series Wednesday and Friday on Comcast Sportsnet, with Pregame Live coverage beginning 30 minutes before the puck drops.

DENVER – The Blackhawks will look at their 82nd regular-season game for what it was: a pretty good game, sans a few of their top players, despite it being their fourth loss in a row.

But Saturday wasn’t so much about looking back as looking forward: it’s playoff time.

The Blackhawks closed out their regular season with their fourth consecutive loss, a 3-2 defeat to the Colorado Avalanche. It was another one-goal loss, this one coming in the last 33 seconds. But considering the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff path was set hours before this game and Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith took the night off to rest, the Blackhawks could live with it.

And now it’s all about the Nashville Predators, the Blackhawks’ opponent when the playoffs begin next week. Nashville hosts the first two games, with Game 1 slated for 7:30 p.m. CT Wednesday and Game 2 scheduled for 8:30 p.m. CT Friday. Games 3 and 4 are back in Chicago; Game 3 is 2 p.m. April 19 and Game 4 is 8:30 p.m. April 21. The Blackhawks haven’t seen the Predators since Dec. 29, when they had their final regular-season matchup in Chicago. The Predators also had a bumpy regular-season finish, going 0-4-2 in their last six games. But the Blackhawks say that means nothing.

“It starts fresh; everything’s even,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They had a great start to their season. They have a tremendousback end, they’re strong in net and have assets up front. Certainly they’re dangerous in a lot of ways. It’s a great year from where they were last year. It’ll be a great matchup.”

[RELATED: Blackhawks not intimidated starting playoffs on the road]

The Blackhawks should enter the first round in pretty good health. Brad Richards and Kimmo Timonen, who each missed these last few regular-season games with upper-body injuries, should be ready to go. The one wildcard is Patrick Kane (fractured left clavicle), who has been skating well and taking stronger shots but has yet to be cleared for contact according to Quenneville. Still, it seems Kane will join the Blackhawks sooner than the original timetable, which put him out until the Western Conference Finals.

Still, if Kane’s not cleared for this first round, the Blackhawks have to be prepared to play without him. They have to find a way to score goals, something they’ve been lacking down the stretch – five goals in their last four games.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoffs, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks will take their final regular-season game for what it was: a pretty solid game despite missing Kane, Keith, Toews and Corey Crawford, who was also given the night off to rest. They’ll start on the road and against a Predators team that has offense to go with the defense and goaltending they’ve had for years. Let the second season begin.

“Well, we know we’re facing an extremely good team,” Marian Hossa said. “They played very consistent the whole season. They have great balance and [they’re] very dangerous offensively. It’ll be a great challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”

Fan captures exhilarating view of Alex DeBrincat's game-winning goal against Nashville

Fan captures exhilarating view of Alex DeBrincat's game-winning goal against Nashville

Ever sit rinkside for an NHL game? Ever sit behind a goal? Ever get to see a game-winning goal with the goal-scorer rushing right toward you on a breakaway?

A fan captured such a moment on video and put it on Reddit. User nhammer11 had exhilarating footage of Alex DeBrincat’s breakaway game-winning overtime goal against Nashville on Friday.

I know it's a couple of days late but we had some good seats the other night and the gf got an amazing video of Cat's ot goal. from r/hawks

The Blackhawks have lost twice since DeBrincat beat Pekka Rinne on this play, but it is a fun clip to watch.

Stan Bowman lays out big picture plan for Blackhawks

Stan Bowman lays out big picture plan for Blackhawks

ST. LOUIS — The NHL trade deadline has passed, and the Blackhawks sold off two key pieces from their roster who were on expiring contracts to recoup some draft picks and prospects to their pipeline. They had no choice to if neither player was going to be part of their long-term plans.

The return was underwhelming in large part because of how the market played out, but that isn't the real problem. It's the fact the Blackhawks are in a position where they subtracted from the roster because they're at risk of missing out on the playoffs for a third straight season.

GM Stan Bowman met with the media in St. Louis before Tuesday's game and was asked to provide an outline of the big picture plan going forward.

"The biggest thing in today's game is having young players play an important role," Bowman said. "The last couple years we've picked in the top 10. We hadn't picked there since we picked Patrick [Kane in 2007]. So I think that's where you get some of those high-end players. The challenge is to try to get as many as those as you can and then build from that way out. Luckily, we still have some other established players that are difference-makers.

"But to answer your question simply, the way you become a really dominant team is you have some high-impact players and you need to have as many of them as you can assemble, but they're not easy to come by. Certainly hard to trade for. I guess it happens rarely when they become available. You typically have to draft them or develop them. Maybe trade for them or sign them as free agents. When you're signing a free agent, unless it's a European guy, they tend to be older and they might have some good years left, but their best years are probably behind them. There's no shortcut to it other than drafting and developing those players, so then the question is how do you acquire those? And that's what we've been trying to do.

"We've been trying to acquire either young prospects or draft choices that we can use to hopefully find that next group. And then there's a little bit of a lag where you have to allow them to develop. Some of them, obviously Kirby [Dach] is the exception to be able to come right in. Usually it takes a little bit of time. Adam [Boqvist] it took one year, now he's already in the NHL. For defensemen, that's a pretty quick ascent to the top. But we have to have a little bit of patience for those players to have time to develop. But you need to have those high-value assets, and we're trying to get as many as those as we can."

To summarize it best: the Blackhawks are in a "lag" period.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are still at the top of their games at age 31, Duncan Keith has a lot of hockey left in him and Corey Crawford is showing no immediate signs of slowing down. Alex DeBrincat is part of that second wave, and you figure Dylan Strome is too. Dominik Kubalik is playing his way into that conversation as well.

And then there's Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach, both of whom broke into the NHL this season as teenagers and have the highest ceilings of them all to turn into elite difference-makers because of where they were drafted. The challenge is balancing patience in their development while helping them get to their prime level as quickly as possible so it coincides with whatever high-level years of hockey Kane, Toews and the other core veterans have. 

There will surely be conversations within the organization over the offseason about the direction of the Blackhawks. Kane hopes the players can provide input to some degree.

"I think it's good to ask the players what they think, to be honest with you," Kane said. "We're the ones who are playing every night. We see what's going on in the locker room. We see who's tough to play against in the league, what teams are tough to play against. That would be a good road to go."

Bowman said he doesn't believe it's necessarily fair to bring the players into the decision-making process but admitted the leadership group has earned the respect to have their voices heard based on what they've accomplished in Chicago.

"If we knew exactly what the future held then you could have that conversation, but it's just a lot of guess work on everybody's part as far as nobody knows what our team's going to be year to year," Bowman said. "You have a plan on what you're doing, but then life happens, and things change. You have to have the willingness to adapt to what's in front of you, so I think that's why their job is to play hockey and they're very good at that and we let them do that.

"The other stuff, you might have conversations in the offseason more-so; day to day, talking to players about the management of the team, that's not the way sports work."

The Blackhawks are taking a long-term approach to their retooling process and it's difficult to predict when everything is going to line back up to not just be battling for a playoff berth but become perennial Stanley Cup contenders again. Are the Blackhawks on board with that?

"I mean, that’s the goal," Toews said. "Anything less than that is disappointing and frustrating."

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