Blackhawks

Top line shines as Blackhawks down Preds, take 2-1 series lead

brandon-saad-blackhawks-predators-game-3.png

Top line shines as Blackhawks down Preds, take 2-1 series lead

Scott Darling takes the same approach, has the same mindset entering every game: he’s just thrilled to be here, thrilled to be getting the opportunities he’s earning.

He may have just earned himself another one.

Darling stopped 35 of 37 shots for his second victory of the postseason and Jonathan Toews had a goal and an assist as the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators, 4-2, in Game 3 of their first-round series on Sunday. The Blackhawks take a 2-1 lead in the series, with Game 4 scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Andrew Desjardins, playing his first postseason game with the Blackhawks, scored his first postseason goal since April 12, 2012 (vs. St. Louis), when he was with the San Jose Sharks. Brandon Saad and Brent Seabrook also scored for the Blackhawks.

Darling, who relieved Corey Crawford in Game 1, got his first NHL postseason start on Sunday. He didn’t disappoint, coming up big when the Blackhawks needed him to do so.

So, does Darling earn the start in Game 4, too?

“We’ll talk about it but certainly he did everything he could to get himself back in the net,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He was rock solid today. He did everything he could to get us a win and he was square, big and controlled a lot of pucks around the net as well.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Darling got word from goaltending coach Jimmy Waite on Saturday that he was starting this afternoon. He said he got nothing but support from Crawford.

“He was great,” Darling said. “We’re a good goalie tandem with our relationship. He was happy for me, very positive. It was good.”

Darling didn’t have much time to think or worry when he came into Game 1 in the second period. This time he had more than a day to think about it. But if he was nervous, it didn’t show in his play.

“It was a little bit nerve-wracking but exciting all at the same time,” said Darling. “It couldn’t have been a better game for the team to help me in my first playoff start.”

Still, there were some moments through the first period plus that made you wonder if the Blackhawks were going down a bad road again. Just 31 seconds after Desjardins scored to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead, Mike Ribeiro scored to tie it for the Predators. And just 22 seconds after Toews scored, Mattias Ekholm evened it at 2-2 for Nashville.

“Disappointing,” Quenneville said of those two quick Nashville goals. “One was off a faceoff, one was not the way we play. We make a turnover in the slot right after a play and that’s not what we’re looking to do. Coverage off the rush was positionally poor, the other off a faceoff and sometimes they go in. But that’s the way it is when we talk about key shifts, being first shifts after goals, last or first shifts off periods, a lot of important shifts. That can’t happen on those two.”

The Blackhawks settled down after Saad’s goal, however, with Darling making a big not long after that to keep the lead. The Blackhawks padded their edge later in the second period when, after a long sequence in the Predators’ zone, Seabrook’s shot trickled through Pekka Rinne.

Darling has shown poise, be it the regular- or postseason. It’s hard to imagine the Blackhawks won’t go with him again in Game 4. He’s happy to be here, and playing like he definitely belongs here.

 

 

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

9-20_anton_forsberg_ap.jpg
AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.