Blackhawks

Swept away: Predators eliminate Blackhawks from Stanley Cup playoffs

Swept away: Predators eliminate Blackhawks from Stanley Cup playoffs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Four and out. On the losing end of a postseason sweep for the first time in more than 20 years. On Thursday the Blackhawks’ postseason, which began with so much promise after a 109-point regular season, ended with a thud.

Roman Josi scored twice and Pekka Rinne stopped 30 of 31 shots as the Nashville Predators beat the Blackhawks 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena. The Blackhawks were swept for the first time since the 1993 division semifinals.

“It was a major disappointment across the board,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I don’t think any of the four games – there was a stretch in the second period where we might have been competing to the level that we needed in the playoffs. We had some stretches in maybe Game 1 and maybe in segments in all four games. Not good enough. I don’t think anybody exceeded their expectations. We don’t compete to the level that’s necessary. I take that personally, as a coach, that we didn’t find the all-out button, didn’t get the job done.”

In the Blackhawks’ locker room there were a myriad of feelings, all in the same range: shock, bewilderment, disappointment and frustration.

“Yeah, I think we probably all thought it was going to go a different way, especially with the regular season you have,” said Patrick Kane. “Coming into the playoffs, I think we felt pretty confident. So yeah, I mean, disappointing, shocked. I don’t know. Yeah. It’s going to be a long summer, for sure.”

Quenneville said it was on him to make sure the Blackhawks were ready for this series – “whatever buttons you have to push, to find a way to make it work, whether it’s lines or excitement,” he said on what he didn’t do. But ultimately it’s the Blackhawks players who didn’t come through. They couldn’t solve the Predators, who were strong from the start. They couldn’t stop the Predators in their end and they couldn’t score at the other. In four games the Blackhawks scored just three goals, and two of them were on the power play.

“A feeling of emptiness. We can’t lose like this,” Artemi Panarin, who went goal-less in the series, said through interpreter Igor Alfimov. “[The Predators] kept it simple. We couldn’t control the puck well. Their defensemen were able to get the puck, get it into the offense. We weren’t able to control.”

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Down 1-0 the Blackhawks made a push in the third period. But about nine minutes into the third the Predators started a push the other way, with Colton Sissons ringing one off the crossbar. The puck got caught under Corey Crawford and when he pushed back, the puck went in behind him to give the Predators’ a 2-0 lead. Josi, who put the Predators up 1-0 midway through the second period, would add his second of the night about 90 seconds later.

“Yeah, it’s tough every time you lose a game in a series like this. It’s tough to mentally battle back and find that confidence and get ready for the next one,” said Jonathan Toews, whose third-period goal was his first postseason tally since the 2015 Stanley Cup final. “I think every game they seemed to get better and better and just thrive off what happened the last game. Every single time we couldn’t start the game the right way. We’d get behind, start forcing offense and then it seems like every defensive breakdown or turnover we had they would come back our way. Odd-man rushes were going in against again. Just an uphill battle every which way.”

Once again the Blackhawks talked about being ready at puck drop. Once again, they weren’t. From the start the Predators looked like they wanted no part of a return trip to Chicago. They swarmed the Blackhawks once again and were looking from the early lead at every opportunity.

Toews scored with a little more than five minutes remaining in regulation but it was too little, too late. Viktor Arvidsson scored an empty-net goal with 1:48 remaining in the game.

The Blackhawks were a heavy favorite to come out of the West this postseason. They couldn’t even get out of the first round. The Predators outplayed them throughout and now the Blackhawks will have a long offseason for the second consecutive season.

“We always talk about not expecting to just turn on the switch when we get to the playoffs. Obviously we didn’t like the way we were playing going into the playoffs and maybe not necessarily the last three games even though we lost a couple on the road, I think the switch just didn’t turn on,” Toews said. “I’m not going to sit here and try and come up with those reasons right now. We’ll have some thinking to do in the next few days and we’ve got a lot of time before next season.”

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.  

When are the Blackhawks going to announce their recent signings?

This question came on Wednesday and the Blackhawks officially announced the signing of 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin on Thursday. Wedin, who's a 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger, had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League and is expected to battle for a full-time roster spot for the Blackhawks in 2019-20.

The other one to watch for is Dominik Kubalik. He has reportedly agreed to an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, but word is it won't be made official until the 2019 IIHF World Championship ends. He's currently representing the Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. Kubalik's rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Does Crawford get extended during the summer?

Corey Crawford has one year left on his six-year contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. The expectation is that he will be re-signed — and he should be. When that comes remains to be seen.

Given his health situation, the Blackhawks may prefer to see how the 2019-20 campaign plays out before diving into contract negotiations with their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Or they could try ironing one out starting on July 1 so that it doesn't hang over his head all season long. 

Crawford will be 35 in December, but that should not be the primary concern. It's whether or not the Blackhawks can count on his availability. When healthy, he's still one of the best in the game and the importance of the goaltending position is at an all-time high. Term will be the thing to watch for when it comes to Crawford's next contract.

Outside of the number 3 pick, what players or positions should the Hawks target in the draft?

The Blackhawks' philosophy is to take the best available player, especially in the first round of the NHL Draft. In 2018, the hope for the organization was that they would come away with a forward and defenseman in Round 1 but instead landed two defensemen (Adam Boqvist at No. 8 and Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27). Same with 2017 when they ended up Henri Jokiharju (No. 29) and Ian Mitchell (second round, No. 57 overall).

The later rounds (4-7) are where that thinking gets trickier because there isn't as much separation between the best available players. At that point — if it's close — positional need might be the deciding factor. 

Given the surplus of high-end defensemen in the pipeline, it's easy to say the Blackhawks should focus more on forward depth and the goaltending position. And that's probably true. But you still want to take the player with the highest ceiling because there's value in developing players the right way and making them attractive trade pieces down the line if there's no room for them on the Blackhawks roster. 

Favorite UFA targets? How do those affect your draft, if at all?

This is an interesting question, and the cliché answer is that it shouldn't impact the draft at all. In fact, the draft may have more impact on what the Blackhawks do in free agency more than vice versa.

The top of the draft is loaded with centers (Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Jack Hughes, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras). The other name generating buzz is Bowen Byram, who's a defenseman. If the Blackhawks pick one of those centers at No. 3 overall, which is very possible, they'll be adding that player — whether he's NHL ready next season or not — to a center group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. 

Toews is going to retire a Blackhawk. Strome is likely going to earn a long-term contract as well. And Kampf appears to be the perfect fourth-line center. Which leaves one center spot left. 

The odd man out may be Anisimov, but even so, there might be less of an inclination to sign a center to a long-term deal this summer if they draft a center at No. 3 because they will have filled that long-term need through the draft. If it's still an area they'd like to address in the short-term, then that could change the Blackhawks' way of thinking going into July 1.

Is Collin Delia the best option behind Crawford or are there other goalies in the system who are ready?

The Blackhawks are very much invested in Delia as Crawford's backup for the 2019-20 season. GM Stan Bowman said as much during exit interviews.

"I think Delia has taken a nice step as a pro this second year," Bowman said. "He didn't play a lot of NHL games, but certainly early on when he was playing a lot, he was really, really good. The hardest part for someone like Collin is trying to adjust to the NHL to not playing every night. I think when he came up and played in a few consecutive games, he was really good. And once we started rotation a bit, that's an adjustment for a young goalie. He wasn't sharp. But now he goes back to Rockford and I think he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the American League in all his statistics. So he's doing all he can do to show that he's ready. That's nice knowing we have him signed for a couple of years and his best years are ahead of him." 

Kevin Lankinen is somebody that's quietly emerging as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. He was put in tough spot this past season, starting with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL then rotating in and out with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, where he had a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 appearances. 

At the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he's been a big bright spot for Finland. He has a 1.83 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games. The Blackhawks want to see him handle No. 1 responsibilities in Rockford before putting him into the conversation as a potential NHL backup.

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Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

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Bildbyrån

Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

One month after "mutually" agreeing to part ways with assistant coach Don Granato, the Blackhawks have hired 38-year-old Tomas Mitell as his replacement on Jeremy Colliton's staff. 

Mitell spent the past two seasons as head coach of AIK Hockey (Allsvenskan) in Sweden, where he guided the team to an overall record of 64-27-13. He led AIK to a league-best 35-8-9 record during the 2018-19 campaign, with their 35 wins and 109 points each setting franchise records.

Perhaps more notably: Mitell served as an assistant coach under Colliton with Mora IK (Allsvenskan) during the 2016-17 season, so there's obvious familiarity between the two. 

Mitell rounds out Colliton's staff that also includes assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank and veteran goaltending coach Jimmy Waite. It's a young group behind the Chicago bench, with Colliton (34), Brookbank (38) and Mitell (38) each having little NHL coaching experience but offer a new-school way of thinking.

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