Minnesota Wild

Five takeaways from Blackhawks shutout loss to Wild: Playoff chances reach season low

Five takeaways from Blackhawks shutout loss to Wild: Playoff chances reach season low

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night:

1. First period sums up the game. 

The Blackhawks had scored the first goal in each of their previous four games going into Saturday yet weren't able to pick up a win in any of them. Maybe if they allowed the first one their luck would change playing from behind, right? 

Wrong.

The Blackhawks gave up the first goal just 1:58 into the opening frame when Charlie Coyle banked a shot off Jeff Glass from behind the net to put Minnesota up 1-0. They had a prime opportunity to get it back after being handed a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play with Marcus Foligno (roughing) and Mike Reilly (cross-checking) each being penalized on the same play, but they couldn't capitalize.

Shortly after, the Wild made it 2-0 when Matt Dumba's shot from the point deflected off of Duncan Keith's leg and tipped-in by Mikko Koivu on the power play and the rest is history. That just about summed up the game.

2. Blackhawks can't solve Devan Dubnyk.

Well, this bullet point can apply to all season.

Dubnyk was on his A-game yet again, turning aside all 44 shots the Blackhawks threw at him for his fourth shutout of the season and most saves he's had in a whitewash.

In four starts against the Blackhawks this season, Dubnyk has stopped 147 of 151 shots for a .974 save percentage. He was lights out, and he's the main reason why the Blackhawks lost three of those four games against their Central Division foes.

The Blackhawks fell 10 points of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference and have seen their playoff chances drop to a season-low 2.4 percent, according to sportsclubstats.com.

3. Brandon Saad's struggles continue.

It's now been 14 games since Saad has lit the lamp, the longest goal drought of his NHL career in a single season. In fact, he before he registered a late third-period shot on goal, he hadn't recorded one in the last nine periods.

His first four shot attempts each got blocked and he, again, had positive 5-on-5 possession numbers but you can't break out of a scoring slump if you don't shoot. And that's an area where they need him to contribute.

4. Stan Bowman addresses direction of franchise.

On Thursday the Blackhawks general manager joined the Pregame Live crew on NBC Sports Chicago to discuss the team's plans going into the Feb. 26 trade deadline. He admitted that "I don't expect us to be a buyer this year," which was to be expected.

Bowman also met with the media before the game on Saturday to expand on a number of subjects, and one thing stood out in particular when discussing the offseason trades and the direction going forward:

"Some of the changes we made we had to make for the long-term success of our team, to be able to have a team that, looking at our team a year ago, we were an older team," Bowman said, via The Athletic's Scott Powers. "I didn’t want to be a part of a group that was just trying to hang on to the past. We’re trying, in the process of competing for the Cup also, rebuild this group so that we can be positioned for many years to come with younger players."

This is the first time we've heard Bowman use the word "rebuild" of some sort, even though this season has always felt like one on the fly. And it's the right move. Rather than sacrificing prospects and/or draft picks to load up for one or two more cracks at a Stanley Cup, Bowman has made it clear he wants to continue developing his younger players and adapt to a league that's transitioned to younger, faster and more skilled skaters.

The short-term goal hasn't changed. Enough of the Blackhawks' core players are around their prime where they will remain in the playoff hunt while they use this season to reload for the long run. But it's encouraging to hear Bowman say as such, and should at least gives Blackhawks fans something to look forward to for years to come, not just the short term.

5. Corey Crawford to join Blackhawks in Arizona.

The Blackhawks' playoff chances may be very slim after losing their fifth game in a row, but they're still not completely out of it and they may be getting an important reinforcement very soon. 

Joel Quenneville said Crawford, who has been out since Dec. 23 with an upper-body injury, will join the team in Arizona on Monday and skate with his teammates. Crawford isn't expected to play on this road trip, but he could return to game action either next week or shortly after that.

The question is, where will the Blackhawks be in the standings once he does return and is a playoff push even remotely realistic? Regardless, it will surely be nice to see No. 50 back between the pipes for a Blackhawks team that could use any boost at this point.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks open three-game road trip in Minnesota

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks open three-game road trip in Minnesota

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Fast starts haven't been enough.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in each of the last four games but haven't been able to come out on top in any of them. Well, here's a chance to finish strong.

No team has allowed more third-period goals than the Wild, who have given up 72. To put that into perspective, they've allowed 78 goals in the first two periods combined.

Their third periods haven't been great, and it was evident in their most recent game on Thursday when they went up 3-0 but squandered it and lost 4-3 in overtime to Arizona. They allowed two of those goals in the final frame.

2. Power play quietly finding success.

The Blackhawks have the 29th-ranked power play, but they've been getting into a rhythm in that area as of late. They've scored on the man advantage in three straight games, going 3-for-10 over that span.

They had been 2-for-26 (7.7 percent) in their previous nine games, so they're obviously taking steps in the right direction. Baby steps, but steps forward nonetheless.

3. Eric Staal.

The resurgence continues for the 33-year-old center, who's somehow on pace to surpass the amount of goals and points he had last year. Staal is six goals away from having his first 30-goal season since 2010-11 when he scored 33 with the Carolina Hurricanes.

He has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in his past nine games, including four goals and two assists in his last four.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to extend winning streak against Wild

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to extend winning streak against Wild

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Foot on gas.

The Blackhawks have won four straight and are looking to make it five in a row against a Wild team that's fighting to stay in the playoff picture also.

The Wild are already without Devan Dubnyk, who's considered week to week with a lower-body injury, and they rank dead last in shots per game (28.5). That's not a favorable combo right now, because the Blackhawks rank sixth with 34.5 shots per game.

Joel Quenneville always preaches playing with pace and with the puck, and there shouldn't be a reason the Blackhawks don't continue that tonight with the Wild coming off a back-to-back.

2. Can the second line stay hot?

In the last three games, the trio of Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane has combined for 10 points (five goals, five assists), and they've teamed up to score the game winner in two of the last three. 

Kane himself has a three-game point streak after going pointless in his previous four, which was the longest drought since 2009. That line has been clicking, and it's important for it to stay that way as the Blackhawks look to evolve into a strong four-line team.

3. How will the blue line stack up?

The Blackhawks were hopeful that Cody Franson (lower body) and Jan Rutta (upper body) would skate at practice on Saturday, but neither of them did. So unless something drastic changes overnight, it appears the Blackhawks will roll out the same six defensemen with Ville Pokka being the lone healthy scratch.

Jordan Oesterle has played so well since returning to the lineup that Quenneville put him on the second power-play unit during Saturday's practice, and Michal Kempny made an impact in his first game since Nov. 12 when he scored a goal in Thursday's 5-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

If both of them play turn in another solid performance, it will be interesting to see how Quenneville plays his cards once one or both of either Franson or Rutta are ready to return soon.