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.”

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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.”

Blackhawks have found magic on power play with Patrick Kane and Dominik Kubalik

Blackhawks have found magic on power play with Patrick Kane and Dominik Kubalik

The Blackhawks’ power-play struggles this season have been well-documented. 

One week ago, they hit rock bottom by slipping to dead last with a 13.8% success rate after going 0-for-17 during their five-game road swing in Western Canada. It played a major role in the Blackhawks picking up only two out of a possible 10 points on that trip. 

After trying just about every possible power-play combination to that point, head coach Jeremy Colliton experimented by positioning Dominik Kubalik in the right faceoff circle and moving Patrick Kane to the left on the first unit. And it's paid off.

In the past four games, the Blackhawks are 6-for-19 on the power play for a percentage of 31.6, which ranks No. 6 over that span. Kubalik has two of those goals while Kane has one and a couple of primary assists as well. 

After Thursday's 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in which the Blackhawks scored a season-high three power-play goals, Colliton was asked whether he regretted not putting Kubalik in that spot on the first unit sooner. In an honest admission, he didn't sugarcoat his answer.

"Yeah, and I wish we would've put Kaner on the other side earlier," Colliton told reporters. "We've tried it off and on throughout since I've been here, and we just haven't been able to get it to click with enough success for everyone to embrace it. But we've been able to here, and it's been a nice weapon for us."

No doubt the Blackhawks coaching staff discussed this possibility earlier in the season but were probably reluctant to make the switch because moving Kane out of his usual spot would have meant moving Alex DeBrincat out of his normal spot and then your two best power play weapons are playing out of their comfort zone.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Blackhawks have finally found a formula that's given the power play some life.

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Brian Campbell impressed by Adam Boqvist's rookie season

Brian Campbell impressed by Adam Boqvist's rookie season

 

Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup champ Brian Campbell — currently a player development coach with Chicago — took on an active role with rookie defenseman Adam Boqvist's development. On the latest installment of "Chevy Drives", Campbell tells NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle, that he likes what he sees of the 19-year-old defenseman. 

"There's definitely been a lot of strides that he's taken," Campbell said of the Blackhawks' No. 8 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. Boqvist played with the Hawks' American Hockey League affiliate the Rockford IceHogs earlier this season before joining Chicago.

"The American League is a tough league to play in and I thought Adam was doing really well and kind of finding his way. A lot of times people say the American League is harder to play in than the NHL, especially for a skilled guy like Adam. Then he gets up here and you can see how well he's doing with Duncan Keith and some of the plays he's made, some of the goals he's had."

Campbell made several trips to Ontario to visit Boqvist when he was playing for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League after he was drafted. 

"I've been impressed," Campbell said. "I didn't think he'd be at this point already. Even seeing him, he came back down to Rockford during their break, and [I] was just kind of praising him and telling him I'm proud of him. I feel like he's kind of like a little, younger brother to me. I'm proud to see where he is now and really looking forward to seeing where he's going to go."

Boqvist impressed the rest of the organization to land in Chicgao for the majority of this season and take on big minutes and big responsibilities like quarterbacking the power play on the Hawks' top unit.

"He's a really mature kid for . . . even in London, it was like, 'Okay, how are you getting around here?' There's only so much you can do [in] hockey if you're not with that person day-to-day and allowed to go in and really kind of coach them," Campbell said. "For me, I think it was more or less, 'Okay, when are you getting your workouts in,' because as you know the NHL schedule is very busy, you got to find time to get workouts in to keep your strength in your legs or else the second half of your year, you're going to start to fall through, you won't be as strong.

"So just those little insights and talks and sometimes, you can even see it in Rockford, he'd get frustrated when he wasn't getting the puck in areas, and should he get the puck in those areas? Yeah, but I'm like, 'Don't worry, once you get playing in the NHL you're going to get pucks in those areas and you have to be ready and prepared to be effective that way.'

"There's lots of little things that you can go through, the daily routine and the daily grind. Mentally, we talked a little bit about that, being prepared. He's a kid that wants to learn and he listens and asks questions. He even asked questions about my career and that only makes you a better person when you're trying to learn more and prepare yourself to be the best you can."

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