Anaheim Ducks

Four takeaways: Patrick Kane's last-minute goal gives Blackhawks much-needed bounce-back win in Anaheim

Four takeaways: Patrick Kane's last-minute goal gives Blackhawks much-needed bounce-back win in Anaheim

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Wednesday:

1. Showtime saves the day

The Blackhawks didn't play their best game. They let Anaheim hang around when they had opportunities to put it away earlier. But, as he often has in the past, Patrick Kane delivered in crunch time and secured two points for the visiting team to kick off the three-game West Coast trip on a positive note.

Brandon Saad made a terrific toe-drag move at the blue line, then fed it to Kane, who snapped one past Ryan Miller with 16.1 seconds left in regulation to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 lead.

Kane became the seventh player in Blackhawks history to post multiple 40-goal seasons, joining Bobby Hull (eight times), Steve Larmer (five), Jeremy Roenick (four), Al Secord (three), Denis Savard (three) and Tony Amonte (three), according to the NHL's PR. Kane's career-high is 46 goals, set during the 2015-16 campaign when he won the Hart Trophy, and he's on pace to break that.

2. Return of the Crow

When Corey Crawford returned in October after being sidelined for nearly 10 months with a concussion, it was natural to wonder whether or not he'd be rusty. He quickly dismissed that by turning in a .946 save percentage in his first four starts.

He did the same on Wednesday.

Crawford was sharp all night, stopping 29 of 32 shots for a save percentage of .906, with two of the goals against coming from high-danger areas and his only real blunder coming on Anaheim's third goal of the game when he misplayed the puck and it ended up in the back of his own net. Fortunately for him, the Blackhawks had his back by scoring a late equalizer and finishing the deal in the final minute.

3. Alex DeBrincat making history

DeBrincat has been incredible this season. With two more goals on Wednesday, the 5-foot-7, 165-pound winger has 36 goals on the season and a chance to reach 50 in only his second year in the NHL. He also has 25 goals in his last 33 games, which is a pace of 62 goals over the course of an 82-game season.

DeBrincat became the fourth player in Blackhawks history to have a 35-plus goal season at age 21 or younger, joining Roenick (41 in 1990-91 and 35 in 1991-92), Hull (38 in 1959-60) and Larmer (43 in 1982-83), according to StatsCentre. 

4. Five-minute power play missed opportunity

The Blackhawks had a prime opportunity in the opening minutes of the second period to take control of a scoreless game when they were awarded a five-minute power play after Rickard Rakell was given a game misconduct for boarding Drake Caggiula, who did not return due to a concussion. And it looked like they would.

DeBrincat scored 14 seconds into the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead, but that was all they would get. In fact, the Ducks actually scored a shorthanded goal of their own thanks to an unfortunate bounce that ended up in the back of the net.

In the end, the Blackhawks came out of the five-minute power play the same way they went into it. A tie game. It could've been a killer because if the Blackhawks found a way to make it 2-0 in that sequence, it would've probably feel like a comfortable lead considering the Ducks rank dead last in goals per game (2.16), and had scored only two goals in their previous three games. 

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Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Saad's breakout game

After turning in one of his best efforts of the season on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks rewarded Saad with a promotion to the top-six again. And he took advantage of that opportunity.

In the first period alone, Saad recorded four shots on goal, scored his first of the season on the power play, drew a penalty and had a takeaway in 7:42 of ice time, which led all forwards. He finished with nine shot attempts (a season-high seven on goal) and 18:56 of ice time.

On his power-play goal, Saad battled for position in front of the net, called for the puck and scored on his second effort. He did all the right things and got rewarded, including on the empty-netter that sealed the victory.

"I've had some chances, especially as of late," Saad said. "But it's definitely nice for them to get in and get a win on top of that."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "He was excellent tonight. ... I thought he had great speed all over the ice, had the puck way more. We’re happy for him. Big factor in the win."

2. Erik Gustafsson's slap-pass becoming a thing

For the second time this season, Gustafsson contributed to a game-winning goal that involved a fake shot and slap-pass from the point. Patrick Kane was the recipient of the cross-ice pass and buried home the one-timer from the right faceoff circle

"I can’t score by myself, so it’s better to pass it," Gustafsson joked. "No, I know Kaner is out there. He’s always getting open when someone else has the puck so it’s easy to find him and there was one guy in front of me so I wanted to pass it."

3. Blackhawks cut down on high-danger chances

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks allowed 25 high-danger chances at even strength. It put them at the very bottom of the league for most on average per game, ironically falling below Anaheim.

Through two periods on Tuesday, the Blackhawks allowed zero and only five at 5-on-5 for the entire game. Certainly a 180 from two nights ago, and an area they will continue to build upon.

"We just took away those quality chances," said Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and picked up his first win at home since Dec. 17, 2017. "I don't think they really had too many where they had time in front of the net to really think about where they wanted to shoot and our guys were on the right away in the middle of the ice and that'll give you a great chance to win a hockey game."

4. Special teams battle

There were a total of 20 penalty minutes (10 for Anaheim, 10 for Chicago), which meant lots of power play opportunities and not as much even-strength time.

The Blackhawks had four of them in the first period, and converted on the second try when Saad scored his first of the season. The penalty killed went 4-for-4, allowing a combined eight combined shots on goal but limiting the quality chances.

What is Tomas Jurco's future with the Blackhawks?

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AP

What is Tomas Jurco's future with the Blackhawks?

Tomas Jurco's time in the NHL has been a challenging one.

He was taken in the second round (35th overall) of the 2011 draft by the Detroit Red Wings, had a solid rookie campaign in 2013-14 when he put up eight goals and seven assists in 36 games, but has since struggled to take that next step.

Believing a change of scenery could potentially benefit both sides, the Blackhawks acquired Jurco last February for a third-round pick in 2017. So far, only the Red Wings have something to show for it.

Jurco had just one goal and zero assists in 13 games last season, and didn't appear in any of the four playoff games. And with an opportunity to crack the lineup out of training camp in September, Jurco instead started the season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, where he registered 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games.

It was good enough to earn him a call-up on Jan. 8 and show whether or not he can carry over that offensive production to the big leagues.

"He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said of Jurco's development at the time. "That's why we brought him up here."

However, he was a healthy scratch for five consecutive games following his recall and his confidence surely took a hit, which isn't great for a young player trying to grow his game at the highest level.

Now he's finally getting a chance to show the Blackhawks what he can bring to the table, spending a few games on a line with Patrick Kane and most recently with Artem Anisimov and Anthony Duclair in a top-six role.

Jurco turned in his best game of the season in Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, scoring his second goal in four games and recording a season-high nine shot attempts (four on goal). There was a defensive lapse on the sixth goal that he was responsible for, but that's part of the learning curve at this point.

He had only one goal in his previous 49 games, dating back to the 2015-16 season. He's trending in the right direction.

But does Jurco have a future in Chicago?

He's 25 years of age, is a pending restricted free agent that carries a $800,000 cap hit and would be in that range again if he were to re-sign.

The question is whether or not the Blackhawks want him back. 

If the Blackhawks decide they want to include him into the fold going forward, they must extend a qualifying offer of at least 105 percent of his last contract. If they choose to go in a different direction, the Blackhawks could simply not make him an offer which would ultimately allow Jurco to sign with whoever he wants as an unrestricted free agent (UFA).

There's also another option in play: The Blackhawks could try to trade his negotiating rights. But that route is only possible if they extend an offer.

This scenario usually occurs when the player rejects the offer and the two sides can't come to terms on a deal. (An example of that would be Brandon Saad's situation in 2015, when the Blackhawks were forced to trade him to Columbus after it was apparent that they wouldn't be able to agree to an extension in time before the offseason deadline). It's unlikely, but still worth noting.

Perhaps the final month will determine Jurco's future with the Blackhawks.

But in a vacuum it's difficult to see a spot for him in the rotation when you consider some of the guys in the organization knocking on the door for a full-time opportunity, most notably John Hayden and Dylan Sikura, the latter of whom Bowman is confident will sign with the Blackhawks once his collegiate career is over. And that also doesn't include the possibility of free-agent signings.

Whether he's in Chicago next season or not, it's still important for Jurco to finish the year strong because his future in the NHL may depend on it. Fortunately for him, his leash has been unhooked and it's up to him to take advantage of it.