Blackhawks

Early Conn Smythe Trophy candidates

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Early Conn Smythe Trophy candidates

Despite being less than half way through the playoffs, some players have already stood above the rest, earning a possible candidacy for the Conn Smyth Trophy, the award given to the most valuable player in the postseason.

NBC's ProHockeyTalk has named five superstars who they believe already show early promise as their teams fight for the Cup.

Claude Giroux -- Giroux is leading the postseason in points by a mile, recording 15 in his last seven games. With a plus-5 rating, Giroux has been an absolute key to his team's success and truly showed all he's capable of in the 'bloodbath' series against Pittsburgh.

Mike Smith -- Although he's not exactly the most liked person in Chicago right now, Smith is proving he can keep up with the big boys. He's faced the most shots throughout the playoffs (316 in eight games) and has had to play in six overtimes.

Jonathan Quick -- The Kings have been put on the map thanks to this guy right here. Quick has made some nearly impossible saves, earning a .955 save percentage and leading LA to a spot in the postseason, despite being the worst offensive team in the league a good majority of the season. Quick is also one of three goalies battling for the Vezina Trophy.

Henrik Lundqvist -- Another candidate for the Vezina, Lundqvist has recorded a .945 save percentage in his last eight games of the postseason. Many analysts predict he will win the award for top goaltending, but he would have to remain very strong against the Capitals and throughout the remainder of the season to beat Quick and possibly even Pekka Rinne.

Andy McDonald -- McDonald has been the Blues' superstar, earning four goals and four assists in six games. He is currently the third highest scorer in the league throughout the postseason, just behind Giroux and Danny Briere of the Flyers. Now the real test is seeing how many he can score on Quick throught the remainder of the Western Conference semi-finals.

While I agree that these five are strong candidates so far, I think Briere needs to be added to the list. Philadelphia's center has recorded seven goals and three assists in his 2012 playoff run. A 38.9 shooting percentage sure isn't too shabby, and helped elevate the Flyers to dominate the Penguins in the first series.

Who do you think is the best candidate for the Conn Smythe at the point in the postseason?

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

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USA Today

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Man Child. The Saad Father. Baby Hoss. Kneel Before Saad.

You’ve got to have a pretty good start to your career to get nicknames and phrases like that coined after you as a 20-something breaking into the league. What Brandon Saad did in the first few seasons of his NHL career certainly qualifies.

After being selected in the second round of the NHL draft in 2011 (a steal, by all accounts), Saad eventually worked his way into the Blackhawks’ lineup and became a key contributor on two Stanley Cup teams…and did so before the age of 23.

Saad has spent parts of seven seasons in Chicago, notching 95 goals and 211 points in 374 games as a member of the Blackhawks. But his presence has been felt even more so in the playoffs. In 67 playoff games with the Hawks, Saad has 15 goals and 19 assists with a plus-16 rating. And if it weren’t for a tough-luck loss in Game 7 against the Kings in the 2014 Western Conference Finals, he might have had his name in consideration for a Conn Smythe Trophy, too.

Unfortunately for Saad, his career might forever be linked to Artemi Panarin’s because of the 2017 trade that brought the power-forward back to Chicago. But for as good as the Panarin/Artem Anisimov/Patrick Kane line was for a while – and that line doesn’t happen without Anisimov coming to Chicago in the first Saad trade – there might not have been a better two-way line in the NHL at one point than Saad/Jonathan Toews/Marian Hossa.

Whatever nickname you choose for him, Brandon Saad earns a spot on our Blackhawks All-Decade team as the left winger on the third line. 

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Instant reaction: 4 takeaways from Bulls' preseason victory over Hawks

Instant reaction: 4 takeaways from Bulls' preseason victory over Hawks

The Bulls concluded their preseason schedule at 2-3 following Thursday’s 111-93 win over a Hawks team playing their regulars limited minutes at the United Center. Here are four takeaways:

Coby White is a baller

Those aren’t our words. They’re Jim Boylen’s.

“We’re developing Coby White as a basketball player,” Boylen said Wednesday. “We’re not going to put him in this situation where he’s a 1, a 2 or a 3. He’s a baller.”

White certainly was with a dominant second half in which he scored 21 of his 29 points and finished 6-for-8 from 3-point range.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if White ever passes the ball. This is the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school history and someone who even North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t expect to turn pro after one season.

White is clearly more a scorer than point guard at this point. And that’s fine. Give the Bulls credit for recognizing that and letting him play to his strengths rather than force-feed him.

Welcome to the preseason, Wendell Carter Jr.

With his status unknown until shortly before tipoff because he tweaked his surgically repaired left thumb, the second-year big man started and endured a slow first stretch in which he looked winded. Then, Carter made his presence known in a big way.

He blocked Brandon Goodwin’s driving layup and sprinted the floor to dunk off a Kris Dunn dish. He drew a taunting technical for dunking all over Bruno Fernando. He blocked Alex Len’s dunk attempt. He made a nice touch pass to Otto Porter Jr. for a basket.

In short, he showed why the organization remains so high on him. And in the process, he almost made people forget the sprained ankle, bruised tailbone and now tweaked thumb he has had this preseason.

Almost.

Carter still needs to prove he can stay on the floor. As coach Jim Boylen often says, reliability and availability are skills. But it’s a good sign for Carter to finish the preseason on a high note with eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Kris Dunn dominated defensively before enduring foul trouble

The guard continues to say all the right things about his reserve role, embracing his identity as a disruptive defensive force.

Whether it was motivation to do right by that or memories of Trae Young scoring 49 points in these teams’ epic, four-overtime thriller from last season, Young had a first-half stretch in which he was all over the court. He had three steals and two assists before sitting with three fouls.

“I’m a professional, as we all are in here,” Dunn said. “We have to approach it in a professional manner. I’m with the Bulls. I’m going to play hard each game and each practice and try to help the team win.”

Dunn’s three quick fouls isn’t an issue either. He’s now in a role where he can afford to be that aggressive defensively.

Jim Boylen used a regular-season rotation

Carter started alongside Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen. Dunn played with a second unit that featured Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono, Thad Young and Luke Kornet.

That means, at least for now, Denzel Valentine is the odd man out. Chandler Hutchison and Shaq Harrison have yet to play this preseason because of hamstring injuries. So perhaps the rotation will change.

But Boylen said pregame that he planned to use the final preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Along those lines, the Bulls kept their newfound approach of launching 3-pointers intact. They took 46 overall, including Zach LaVine’s deep heave that beat the halftime buzzer as part of his 23 points in 25 minutes. LaVine continued to score almost effortlessly.