Penalty kill key part of equation for Blackhawks chasing fourth Stanley Cup in eight years

Penalty kill key part of equation for Blackhawks chasing fourth Stanley Cup in eight years

It took the Blackhawks nearly two months to climb out of the basement in the penalty kill department after a historically bad October when they allowed 15 goals on 30 attempts in their first eight games of the season.

Since then, the Blackhawks rank ninth in the league with an 83 percent success rate. 

The unit came up large in Friday's 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, killing all four penalties, a few of which came at key moments of the game.

"Penalty killing was outstanding," Joel Quenneville said after the game. "I thought they did a good job of denying the shots, the point shots from the middle especially, their execution and movement together was excellent. They had some good clears, (Corey Crawford) made some good stops. Critical timing of some of the kills was important as well."

The Blue Jackets, who have been a top-5 power play team for the majority of the campaign, slipped outside the top-10 with an 0-for-4 night, extending their goal drought on the man advantage to nine games (0-for-17 over that span).

They recorded nine shots on their four opportunities Friday, but the Blackhawks did a great job of limiting their quality chances.

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"Yeah, the penalty kill was huge," said Patrick Kane, who had three assists and moved within four points of Connor McDavid in the NHL's scoring race. "It seems like we did a great job penalty killing as far as not really giving them too many lanes to shoot. Guys were getting in front of pucks, and when they got shots through, it seemed like they were going wide or (Crawford) was getting his body on it. Great job by them tonight. That's going to be huge going into the playoffs."

It gave the Blackhawks some much-needed confidence in that area after they went 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) in their previous four games before Pittsburgh's contest, where they bounced back with a 2-for-2 performance. That's now six straight penalties killed, putting the team back on track.

The Blackhawks increased their season point total to 107 with the victory, and reached the 50-win mark for only the second time in franchise history. They've all but locked up the Central Division and home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference, but they're not losing sight of the bigger prize.

"I like how we’ve progressed in our game," Quenneville said. "Tough league, tough conference, tough division. But we’re happy with what we’ve achieved in the regular season. That’s not what we’re looking for, but it’s certainly put us in the spot we wanted."

In their previous three championship runs, the Blackhawks have finished fifth (2010), third (2013) and 10th (2015) in penalty kill percentage. If they want to get to where they want to go, which is a fourth Stanley Cup in eight years, the penalty kill is a vital part of the equation.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Hawks lose 6-3 to the Oilers in Game 2

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Hawks lose 6-3 to the Oilers in Game 2

In Game 2 of the best-of-five series between the Blackhawks and Oilers, the good guys took a step back and lost 6-3. Host Pat Boyle is joined by Blackhawks analyst Steve Konroyd as they discuss the loss, the play of the Hawks, and what needs to change for the Blackhawks to win Game 3.

(1:00) - Connor McDavid had a great comeback game

(7:52) - Breaking down the play of Olli Määttä

(12:00) - Missed opportunities to score for the Hawks

(16:46) - Adjustments for the Hawks

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Blackhawks can't match Oilers' intensity as Connor McDavid leads way in Game 2

Blackhawks can't match Oilers' intensity as Connor McDavid leads way in Game 2

Let's be honest: The Blackhawks dominated the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1. The final score was 6-4, but there was never a doubt as to which team was in the driver’s seat from start to finish.

So going into Game 2, the Blackhawks knew the Oilers would come out desperate.

"We’d be naïve," head coach Jeremy Colliton said before the game, "if we don’t think they’re going to throw everything they have at us."

And that's what the Oilers did. To be more exact: That's what Connor McDavid did.

After scoring 2:34 into Game 1, the two-time Art Ross Trophy winner scored 19 seconds into Game 2 and then again 3:46 later to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead before the Blackhawks even knew what hit them. He completed the hat trick in the second period, giving him four goals through two games so far.

It was clear from the first shift Game 2 would have a different feeling than Game 1. The Oilers, this time, were in control and they followed No. 97's lead.

"They were much better as a team than they were in Game 1, so give them credit there," Jonathan Toews said following a 6-3 loss on Monday. "And to add to the fact, I don't think we made things as hard on them as we did in the first game. So everything we did in that first game, we've got to step all that team game up a notch.

"McDavid's obviously a focus for me, and when we're not making things hard enough for them offensively, then we get ourselves in spots where we end up taking penalties, and you know what happens on the power play, a guy like McDavid's going to make you play. A couple times early in the game, we give him grade A chances and he's not making any mistakes. You know what we're going to get out of him every game, so we've got to be better on him."

You just knew McDavid wouldn’t let his team fall behind 2-0 in a series that easily, especially as the No. 5 seed in their own building. He certainly looked extra motivated to be a factor at even strength after being shut down in Game 1 — all three of his points came on the power play.

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This was a virtual must-win for the Oilers. Only one team in NHL history has overcome a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series: New York Islanders in 1985 after losing Games 1 and 2 in overtime to the Washington Capitals then rallying to win the next three.

"Connor led the way," Oilers forward Tyler Ennis said. "He set the tone for us and gave us a spark. That's exactly what we needed, and everybody followed."

Credit the Blackhawks for clawing back and showing the kind of resiliency that helped them win Game 1. They fell behind 2-0 and tied it up at 3-3 before McDavid's hat trick put the Oilers back in front 4-3.

The game got away from the Blackhawks in the third period, where they were out-chanced 10-1. But that what was bound to happen for a team that was playing catch-up all game.

In the end, the Blackhawks won't sugarcoat their overall performance. It was no secret the Oilers would come out hungry, and the Blackhawks simply didn't match their intensity.

"Ultimately, we didn’t play to the level we need to to beat this team," Colliton said. "We knew going into this series it would be a challenge. ... It’s a 1-1 series, I’m sure no one picked us to sweep them. They won a game, now we have to find a way to be better on Wednesday, and we will."