Blackhawks

Stars shine bright as Blackhawks down Wild in Game 2

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Stars shine bright as Blackhawks down Wild in Game 2

Every team preaches it this time of year: To advance, the best players need to be the best players.

Right now, the Blackhawks’ best are playing accordingly.

Patrick Kane scored twice and Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews also added goals as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 in Game 2 of their second-round series on Sunday night. The Blackhawks take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which now goes to St. Paul, Minn., for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Corey Crawford stopped 30 of 31 shots for the victory. There was a bit of a scary moment late in the third when Crawford took a Marco Scandella shot flush in the mask. Crawford looked woozy for a few moments after that, although he did make a stop or two. He switched masks at the first stoppage of play. Coach Joel Quenneville said afterward that Crawford was fine. Crawford said the same, but that the black mask was done.

“It was just dented a little bit. Whenever it’s dented there’s a chance the next one can squeak through so you just have to change it,” said Crawford, who bid goodbye to the mask. “Yeah, it was a new one; he gone.”

Kane’s goals were his 100th and 101st career postseason points. Duncan Keith assisted on Kane’s first goal and played just over 30 minutes.

Be it Crawford, the team defense or the offense, the Blackhawks’ best players were at their best on Sunday. They practiced patience, as is needed against a Wild team that doesn’t allow much, and took advantage of Minnesota miscues.

“I think it was our best game all the way around,” Quenneville said. “Good pace and energy from the outset, good pace to our game, defensively solid, all lines were consistent and we had a lot of offensive zone time and puck possession. We played the right way.”

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

That started immediately, although this game didn’t feature the offensive fireworks of Game 1. Instead of two teams scoring a combined six goals in the first 30 minutes, as they did on Friday, it took 30 minutes for anyone to score in this one. Toews provided that first goal, a 2-on-0 short-handed effort, with Marian Hossa, to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead. With just 20 seconds left in the second period Kane, off a long pass from Keith, scored to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead.

“It was a timely goal,” Kane said. “When you go up 2-0 you know they’re going to press a little bit and try to create chances going back their way. We did a good job, for the most part, keeping their chances limited there in the third and we made a great play in the neutral zone getting Sharpie that breakaway.”

Indeed, outside of Matt Dumba’s power-play goal 80 seconds into the third period –one Crawford would likely take back if he could – the Blackhawks kept the Wild at bay. About six minutes after Dumba’s goal they restored their two-goal lead on that Sharp shot.

“I just got the loose puck there and tried to put it up,” said Teuvo Teravainen, who had the primary assist on that goal. “Sharpie got it and what a great goal.”

[WATCH: Kane, Toews get the Blackhawks scoring started in Game 2]

Kane added an empty-net goal with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.

The Blackhawks could be happy with a lot of things after Sunday night. They won the opening two games of this series with arguably their best performance of this postseason. It won’t be easy in Minnesota; the Wild will be hungry to even the series at home, where they’ve long fed off the home crowd. But the Blackhawks like the way they’re trending right now, and their best are leading the way.

“We all have a lot of experience and we’ve been in these situations before. It’s good to have your top players step up and score some big goals,” Kane said. “We’ll take some pride in that down the road but I think that’s one of those things where you wipe the slate clean after every game and try to bring the best effort going into the next one.”

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.