Blackhawks deal Saad to Columbus

10-171460575-smallIn a completely unexpected and stunning move, the Blackhawks have traded Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for four players and a 2016 fourth round draft pick. Stan Bowman had stated on more than one occasion leading up to this summer that his number one priority was to re-sign Saad this offseason and that he was confident he could do so. Unfortunately, it is now clear that the two sides could not come to an agreement on a contract, thus leading to the trade.

Obviously this one hurts, a lot, but let’s break it down here and really take a look at what this trade means.

First off, it is being reported that Saad was looking for a deal worth about $6.5 million per year for 6 years. If that is in fact true, then there’s no way the Blackhawks could have signed him to that deal without having to dismantle their roster. With the Hawks as tight against the salary cap as they are, two million dollars is a lot of money. If Saad was looking for four million per year, then he doesn’t get traded. This isn’t like the MLB where a team can sign players to huge deals left and right. In this case, what seems to be not a huge sum of money (two million), is in fact just that.

Secondly, with Saad reportedly looking for that type of contract and the Hawks not in a position to agree on that, they had to deal him away before he became a restricted free agent at midnight tonight. If he were still on the Hawks’ roster at 12:00am tonight, any team in the league could then contact Saad and sign him to an offer sheet, which would likely have been $6.5 million for 6 years. If that had happened, the Blackhawks would have been left with two options:

  1. Match whatever offer sheet Saad signed, thus forcing them to make possibly even more trades than we were all expecting and putting them in an unfavorable position for the near future.
  2. Don’t match the offer sheet and receive a handful of draft picks in return that may or may not pan out to be good NHL players.

Given that situation, Stan Bowman and the Hawks chose to trade Saad now before he became an RFA.

Here’s what they got in return:

  • Artem Anisimov: Anisimov (27 years old) is a solid two-way player who can be placed at center or on the wing, making him a valuable asset to the lineup. He registered 27 points (7 goals, 20 assists) last season with Columbus, but my immediate thought is that those numbers will quickly rise now that he’s in a star-studded lineup with the Hawks. His ability to play center and win faceoffs makes losing Richards and/or Vermette easier to handle.
  • Marko Dano: This guy is just 20 years old and is viewed as one of the better prospects in the game. He has some tremendous upside and could very well end up being a big player on the Hawks for many years. As a winger, he could find himself on the Hawks’ third line next year.
  • Jeremy Morin: No, that is not a misprint. Morin is back with the Hawks after being traded away to Columbus this past December. If you’ve forgotten, Morin is a hard nosed winger who isn’t afraid of battling along the boards or standing in front of the net. He has shown some good potential at the NHL level, but hasn’t been able to put it all together yet. Whether or not he starts in NHL or AHL next year remains to be seen. That’s if he doesn’t get traded again before the season starts.
  • Corey Tropp: Tropp is a 25 year old right winger who tallied just 8 points with the Blue Jackets in 61 games last year. And to be honest, that’s all I really know about him.

In addition to those four players, the Blackhawks also received a 2016 fourth round pick from Columbus.

When you look at the return for Brandon Saad in this deal, there’s reason for optimism. Artem Anisimov is without question a nice pickup and could be quite valuable for the Hawks immediately. He ensures that the Hawks will have some nice depth at center for next season, as they already have Toews, Teravainen, Kruger (assuming he gets re-signed), and Phillip Danault, who is expected to see more NHL time. This also means that we may not see Brad Richards or Vermette back. It wasn’t likely that Vermette would have been back anyway, but Richards seemed to be a real possibility. Him coming back is still not out of the question though.

Marko Dano, as I mentioned, figures to be part of the Hawks’ future for sure. He has some real goal scoring talent and is just 20 years old. When you add in the fact that they already have an incredible talent in Teuvo Teravainen, who is also just 20, the Hawks up and coming players could make them quite scary again, and soon.

Now here’s another angle.

It’s possible that the Hawks turn around and trade Morin, Tropp, or even Dano (not likely) along with Bickell or Sharp to get a bigger return. I personally can’t see Morin playing another game for Joel Quenneville, who clearly doesn’t like what Morin brings on the ice, so maybe he’s the best bet of the three to get traded again. Whether this theory holds true, who know? It’s just a theory.

What’s not a theory is that the Hawks do still have to trade Sharp and/or Bickell to open up more cap space. If they can trade both, which would be ideal, they could afford to go after some free agents that they probably couldn’t have before trading Saad. They could also seriously look at bringing back Oduya and Richards.

So while none of us are happy to see Saad go, and I’m still stunned by it, the more you look into to it, the more it appears that this was a move that needed to be made. And if Bowman can deal Sharp and Bickell, that would allow the Hawks to makes some moves to help them in the long run.

While it’s easy to be pessimistic right now, there is still a lot of reason for optimism when you look at who the Hawks just acquired and what they could still potentially do this summer.

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NHL salary cap set: let the trades begin

1383642_616596775058148_1814435643_nThis morning, the NHL announced that the salary cap for the 2015-16 season will be $71.4 million; about $2.4 million higher than this past season. This is decent news for the Blackhawks because they need the cap to go up as much as possible if they want to retain players like Saad and Kruger, among others, for next season. Had the cap been any lower than $71 million for this upcoming season, it would have been a big disappointment for many teams like the Hawks.

What the announcement of next season’s cap means is that trades and other moves will begin to take place, and in a hurry. Odds are that not much will happen prior to Wednesday night’s NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas, but who knows? One thing is for sure, and that is that we are bound to see a flurry of trades before the start of the NHL Draft on Friday.

With regards to the Blackhawks, this implies that a big move or two could come between now and Friday. The Blackhawks traded away a number of draft pick for this year’s draft back at the trade deadline a few months ago, and odds are that they’ll be looking to acquire some picks heading into the draft of Friday. To get those picks, they will most likely be looking to dump at least one big salary.

Patrick Sharp’s name has come up more than just about any player in hockey in recent weeks when discussing possible trades. He is set to make $5.9 million per year over the next two seasons. It’s no secret that the Hawks will be looking to move Sharp in return for some high picks and a prospect, but whether or not they can strike a deal with a team over the next 72 hours remains to be seen. I don’t think any of us Hawks fans want to see Sharp go, but it is a move that has to be done. Brandon Saad is a huge part of this team’s future, and really the only way to give him a contract that he deserves is by moving a player with a big annual salary like Sharp.

Other candidates to be traded out of Chicago are Bryan Bickell, and possibly even (but not likely) Brent Seabrook and/or Corey Crawford. All three players have big annual salaries and would bring a lot back to the Hawks if traded. Odds are that both Seabrook and Crawford go nowhere, but their names have been mentioned in trade rumors.

The ideal scenario would be if Stan Bowman could find a buyer for Bryan Bickell. Bickell is set to make $4.5 million annually for the next two years, which is way too much money. Why Bowman ever inked Bickell to such a deal, I don’t know. It was probably a knee-jerk reaction to the way Bickell performed over the course of the 2013 playoffs. Trading away Bickell, who is definitely replaceable from within the organization, would free up a lot of cap space and go a long way in re-signing Saad and Kruger first and foremost. If this deal is made, it by no means implies that Sharp won’t be traded. If I had to bet on this, I’d say Sharp is dealt before any other Hawk. Being able to dump Bickell’s salary would just be a bonus to Stan Bowman.

So in summary, here’s what to look for in the next few days:

  • Patrick Sharp being traded away, and probably to an Eastern Conference team, in exchange for a first round pick in this year’s draft and a good prospect or two.
  • Maybe even a Bryan Bickell trade if Bowman can work magic. Bickell would likely bring in a couple 2nd-4th round draft picks and nothing more, especially if another team agrees to take on the majority of his contract.
  • We may see the names Seabrook and Crawford float around in the rumor mill, but I wouldn’t expect either one to go anywhere.
  • Once Sharp and anyone else are dealt, extensions for Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger should follow shortly thereafter.

Stay tuned.

Blackhawks are true champions

10-171460575-smallFor the third time in six seasons, the Blackhawks can call themselves Stanley Cup champions. With their impressive 2-0 shutout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night, the Hawks have cemented themselves as the greatest NHL team of the salary cap era, and some people are choosing to use the word “dynasty.” Whether or not you agree with that label is a discussion for another day. For now, let’s just focus on how great, fun, exciting, legendary, etc., this team is.

The pursuit of this Stanley Cup victory really began as soon as the L.A. Kings knocked the Hawks out of the playoffs last season in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. The Blackhawks were one shot, one goal away from advancing to the Stanley Cup where anything could have happened. Instead, they were sent packing far too early for their liking. A bad taste was left in their mouth, and an even stronger hunger left in their minds to get right back to that same spot and change the outcome. They did just that this go around by defeating the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of this year’s WCF.

Once they reached the Stanley Cup Final just a couple of weeks ago, this team knew that they would not walk away empty handed again. They had too much reason and too much desire to let that happen. Essentially, the Blackhawks knew that they would win the Cup this year, only they’ll never tell us that.

As if losing to the Kings last spring wasn’t enough motivation, the Hawks received plenty more of it this year that propelled them to winning a third Cup in six years. They endured one of the toughest regular seasons a team could possibly imagine. Just before Christmas, they lost their assistant equipment manager, Clint Reif, to an all too sudden death. The players and coaches all considered him to be just as much a part of that team as anyone else, and his loss hit the Hawks harder than any of us can imagine. Then not long after, former teammate Steve Montador suddenly passed away, again pushing the players’ emotional capacities to the limit.

This team was already on a mission to win the Cup this year to avenge their Game 7 loss last year. After the deaths of two people extremely close to the team, the Blackhawks were not going to be denied the Cup. They were going to win it for those who would not be there to experience it, and they did just that.

Looking back on this playoff run, it’s really amazing to think about how good this year’s Hawks really were. Take this series against the Lightning for example. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp combined for three goals in the series, yet they still won in six games. Contributions were made up and down the lineup to get the Hawks another Cup, whether it was Antoine Vermette, Teuvo Teravainen, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, etc. This was a true team full of champions, and now, that’s just what they are.

130107_gq_trout_aDuncan Keith, the unanimous vote-getter for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, put together his best ever stretch of play. He finished the playoffs having played more minutes than anyone else, and it wasn’t even close. Keith finished the postseason with close to ninety more minutes than the next closest player, which is astounding. To add icing on the cake, he scored the game winning goal Monday night.

And how about Corey Crawford? The guy loses his starting job prior to Game 3 of Round 1, only to get it back for Game 6 and never relinquish it. He closed out the playoffs with a shutout to win the Stanley Cup. Had it not been for his early struggles in the first round, Crawford would have had a strong case to be the Conn Smythe winner.

10-171460575-smallAs the seconds ticked down to zero at the end of Game 6 Monday night, it was hard to believe what was happening. For the first time in most of our lifetimes, the Blackhawks were winning the Stanley Cup on home ice in front of their own fans. It was a surreal imagine that I’ll never forget. And although Stanley itself was a little late getting to the party due to sever weather earlier in the evening, it didn’t really matter. The party was on.

Watching Jonathan Toews accept the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman for the third time, but the first at the U.C., presumably sent chills down the spines of all of Chicago. USP NHL: STANLEY CUP FINAL-TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING AT S HKN USA ILAs Toews then passed the Cup onto Kimmo Timonen, it was tears that took over for the chills. A man who nearly lost his life just a year earlier, who had no clue if he’d ever put on another pair of hockey skates, was holding the greatest trophy in sports above his 40-year old head for the very first and last time. It was truly one of the great moments in Stanley Cup history.

Joel Quenneville solidified himself as one of the single greatest coaches the sport has ever witnessed, winning his third Stanley Cup as the Blackhawks coach. What’s truly remarkable about Quenneville in all of this is that he has now won the Cup here in Chicago with three different coaching staffs. That is a testament to him and to the men he chooses to stand beside him behind the bench.

This year’s Chicago Blackhawks may not have been the best of the three teams they’ve had win the Stanley Cup over the last six years, but they were the toughest. Regardless of what adversity they faced during the regular season and these playoffs, they found a way to overcome it and came out as champions. They started this run five years ago as a bunch of “kids” who were too young and too dumb to realize what they had just done. Now, they are legends who will be looked upon as a modern-day dynasty. For those who just won the Cup for a third time with the Blackhawks, they will forever be the faces of this great organization, and rightfully so. And for a few of them, they’ll be seeing their number hang high above the United Center ice one day, as well as a bronze statue placed outside the stadium for the rest of time.

Enjoy this one, as it may be a while until the Blackhawks ever get back to this point due to imminent salary cap casualties. For now though, the Blackhawks are Stanley Cup champions.

Blackhawks on the verge…again

10-171460575-smallWith Saturday night’s Game 5 victory over the Lightning in Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks have put themselves in position to do something they haven’t done since 1938: win the Stanley Cup on home ice. Saturday night marked the second time in three games that the Blackhawks have defeated Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena, and they did it by playing their best all around game of the series.

The first four games of this Stanley Cup Final saw the Lightning begin each game as the better team, only to have the Blackhawks get better as the game progressed. One could even argue that Tampa Bay was the better team over the course of the first four games. Saturday night’s game flipped the script, however, as the Hawks came out in the first period as the much better team. They dominated in Corsi, ending the period with a 26-14 15-_DSC2491-toresizeadvantage, and also led in shots 14-5. The first period ended with the Blackhawks also winning on the scoreboard by a score of 1-0 thanks to a major mishap between Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman.

Over the years, the Blackhawks have shown that they know how to take their game to that next level when they need to. They know when they have the chance to put their foot on their opponent’s neck, and they always seem to do so. Saturday night was no different. With the series tied 2-2, the winner moving to within one victory of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Hawks knew it was time to elevate their game and scratch out a win. Add in the fact that a win in Game 5 would mean a chance to lift the Cup on home ice in Game 6, and that team had more motivation to play their best than they probably knew what to do with.

So that’s where we’re at now. The series headed back to Chicago and the Blackhawks knowing that with a win Monday night, they’ll be celebrating a championship on home ice for the first time in 77 years.

Here’s what needs to happen in Game 6 to ensure that the aforementioned does take place:

  • Get another great start. For the first time in this series, the Hawks were the better team in the first period during Game 5. This needs to happen again in Game 6. The United Center is going to be absolutely insane with noise, and the Hawks players need to feed off of that right from the get go. Getting a quick one or two (can we dream?) goal lead would be huge and put the Lightning in a very tough spot.
  • Keep it up Crawford. Corey Crawford has arguably been the MVP of this series, and he turned in yet another fantastic performance Saturday night. He definitely seems to have a boat load of confidence right now and is playing his best hockey of the year. With Tampa Bay likely to come out in full desperation mode, Crawford should expect to be tested with some quality scoring chances. It will be on him to make the necessary saves and some “highlight reel” saves.
  • Solid PK. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been rather brilliant against the Lightning. They’ve killed off 12 of the 13 penalties that they have taken in this series, which is a huge reason they are now one win away from clinching. Maintaining a solid PK Monday night will once again be large if they can do so. The United Center crowd thrives on successful penalty kills, which lends some momentum to the home team.
  • Star time. The fact that the Blackhawks are one win away from lifting the Stanley Cup without Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa scoring a single goal in this series is remarkable. Heck, Jonathan Toews only has one goal, as does Patrick Sharp. This speaks volumes about the depth of the Blackhawks. However, maybe now is the time for the stars of this team to make their mark. It’s never too late for Showtime.
  • Zone exits. The Blackhawks have been having a really tough time clearing the puck out of their own zone against the Lightning. Tampa Bay does an exceptional job of clogging the boards and not allowing the Hawks to get the puck out of the zone that way. This has led to numerous defensive zone turnovers and subsequent scoring chances for the Lightning. It is imperative that the Blackhawks find a way to get the puck out of their zone successfully in Game 6. Whether it’s using the middle of the ice, flipping the puck high into the air and out of the zone, or literally anything that may work, the Hawks need to do it because using the boards as a way of clearing the zone is not working.
  • Lastly, the Big Four. The top four d-men of the Hawks (Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya) have all played very heavy minutes ever since the beginning of the Western Conference Final. This is well documented. Game 5 was possibly their best performance of this series, especially for Niklas Hjalmarsson. If these guys can put together just one more great game and leave it all on the ice, the Hawks should be in good shape. With the Stanley Cup on the line, I’m confident this will be the case.

The Hawks are 9-0 in Game 6’s under Joel Quenneville. That is absolutely remarkable, but also somewhat of a meaningless stat at this point as each game and each series is different. What that does say, however, is that this team knows how to close out a series when given the chance. This is a cold blooded team that does not often give their opponent second chances. Knowing full well that with a win they can celebrate the Cup on their home ice with their own fans, it would be silly to think the Blackhawks won’t be completely amped up and ready to go Monday night.

Having already won two Cups in the last six years, the Hawks know how to prepare for a potential Cup-clinching game like this. When you’ve got guys like Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, and so on, you know you’ll be prepared and solely focused on the task at hand.

I am expecting the Hawks’ best game of the series in Game 6. I don’t think they’ll let the an opportunity like this pass by without taking advantage of it.

*Also, WIN IT FOR KIMMO!

Disappointing loss in Game 3 for the Blackhawks

15-_DSC2491-toresizeI, for one, felt pretty good about this series after the first two games. The Blackhawks went down to Tampa Bay and took Game 1 thus giving them home ice advantage in the series. They lost the second game, a game which they could have won, but it wasn’t the end of the world. They met their goal by getting at least one victory in Tampa. With the series then headed back here to Chicago where the Hawks have been rather dominant this postseason, I thought it was very possible they could win both games at home to go up 3-1 in the series. Well after last night, that is no longer possible.

Game 3 was a game that the Blackhawks really should have never lost, but they did by a score of 3-2. After Ryan Callahan opened up the scoring early in the first period, the Hawks absolutely dominated the remainder of the period and ended it with 19 shots on goal compared to the Lightning’s 7. In terms of Corsi, the Hawks had a 33-11 advantage after the first period (33 shot attempts to 11). Those are some pretty staggering numbers, yet only Brad Richards was able to find the back of the net for the Hawks through the first 20 minutes and the game was tied at 1 apiece.

It seemed logical to think that the Blackhawks would come out in the second and try to pick up right where they left off in the first, but that didn’t happen. Tampa Bay owned the second period and out-shot the Hawks 17-7. The Lightning did have an extended 5 on 3, which partially led to that shot disparity between the two teams, but they still dominated the whole period. The puck seemingly never left their offensive zone for more than a few seconds at a time, and the Hawks were completely unable to get any sort of momentum going. However, despite their shot advantage and the fact that they had a lengthy 5 on 3 powerplay, Tampa Bay did not score in the period, and it remained 1-1 heading into the third.

Just over four minutes into the third period, Marian Hossa found Brandon Saad wide open in the slot and hit him with a perfect pass to set up a one-timer. Saad made no mistake on the shot and blew it by the glove side of Bishop to put the Hawks in front 2-1.

Then, just 13 seconds after Saad’s goal, Ondrej Palat scored a pretty soft goal at the other end to tie it right back up. Talk about a momentum swing…

For roughly the next 12 minutes, things went back and forth with Tampa Bay getting mostly better chances than the Hawks. Nothing would go in, though, until just over 3 minutes were left in regulation. Victor Hedman carried the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone, weaved through the Hawks’ defenders, then centered a pass from the goal line to Crawford’s right and found the stick of Cedric Paquette who simply redirected it into the empty net. Just like that, 3-2. There would be no “miracle on Madison” in the final minutes of regulation, and the Hawks now find themselves down 2-1 in the series with the Lightning regaining home ice advantage.

This was a game that the Blackhawks had no business losing, making it that much more frustrating. Here’s what I took away from Game 3:

  • After a first period in which the Hawks dominated once allowing Ryan Callahan to score, they only found themselves tied at 1 on the scoreboard. Both Marian Hossa and Teuvo Teravainen had point blank, empty net scoring chances in the period, but neither one hit the net. Granted, Marian Hossa was tripped while attempting the shot, but that’s not a good enough excuse in my mind. Had the Hawks buried either one or both of those chances, there’s a real possibility that we’re talking about a victory right now rather than a loss.
  • Staying with the “dominating first period” theme, the fact that the Hawks came out as flat as they did in the second was mind blowing to me. They had Tampa Bay on the ropes after the opening 20, and then let them back in it in the second frame.
  • What in the world is going on with Ben Bishop? He and Jon Cooper insist that he’s fine and that he’s capable of playing, but the eye test would say otherwise. Yes, Bishop did end up with a 36-save victory, but the Blackhawks never really tested him as much as they should have. Joel Quenneville said so following the game Monday night. It’s pretty evident that Bishop is having some serious trouble moving side to side, specifically right to left, yet the Blackhawks never were able to establish enough offensive zone time to test him with those movements. If Bishop plays again in Game 4, it would be wise of the Blackhawks to test him early and often.
  • 15-_DSC2491-toresizeThe star players of the Hawks need to start showing up on the score sheet. Last night, the first line of Saad, Toews, and Hossa was extremely good and even registered a goal (Saad). Having said that, guys like Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp have got to start finding the back of the net or at least begin creating goals for other linemates. The Blackhawks will not win this series without those guys producing. I also believe that if those guys do begin scoring, the Hawks will not lose this series. If you recall, Toews and Kane did a whole lot of nothing in games 1-3 in each of their previous two Stanley Cup Final appearances. Then in games 4-6, they dominated. Hopefully history repeats itself.
  • Monday night’s loss marked the TENTH time this postseason that the Blackhawks have allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring one themselves. Instead of letting up after scoring, it’s about time they do the opposite and go for the kill.
  • Corey Crawford, while not horrible, has not been his best the last two games. He’s got to find a way to keep the goals scored by Callahan and Palat out of the net.
  • Byan Bickell played one of his worst games of the year in Game 3, and that’s saying something. I am all for Quenneville benching him and reinserting Kris Versteeg for Game 4. Versteeg brings speed and energy, both of which fit nicely in this series.
  • Lastly, TVR. I thought van Riemsdyk had and “okay” game Monday night, as Quenneville would say. He made some real nice passes and plays to get out of his own end, but he also turned the puck over a couple times in the defensive zone. Instead of forcing the puck up the boards in an attempt to clear the zone, try looking towards the middle of the ice where there’s less traffic.

While there is no question that Game 3 stung, this is only a 2-1 series right now. The Hawks can still even this thing up Wednesday night. There is no denying that they cannot afford to lose Game 4, so I would expect to see the Hawks’ best effort of the series so far. Jonathan Toews has said a couple of times recently that the Hawks seem to play their best hockey when they are backed up against a wall. Well, I’d consider their backs to be against the wall now.

If the Hawks can pull out a win in Game 4, they’ll head back to Tampa Bay where the Lightning have been very disappointing this postseason. They are a weak 6-6 at home during the playoffs. This series is far from over, but a Hawks victory is imperative Wednesday night.

Blackhawks drop Game 2

15-_DSC2491-toresizeAfter a surprisingly low scoring first game of the series between the Blackhawks and Lightning, we finally got what we were all expecting in Game 2: a fast paced, relatively high scoring track meet. Each team traded goals throughout the game until Tampa Bay struck for their fourth goal roughly half way through the third. The Blackhawks could not answer, and the game ended 4-3 in favor of the home team. Series tied 1-1 heading to Chicago.

All things considered, the Hawks shouldn’t be too upset about coming home with the series tied at one. Their goal heading into the first two games in Tampa was to win at least one and gain home ice advantage in the series. They did just that. The disappointing thing is that Game 2 was definitely winnable, but they let Tampa Bay off the hook. Had the Hawks pulled off another victory last night to go up 2-0 in the series, this thing would be all but over.

So here’s what I took away from Game 2:

  • Corey Crawford did not have his best game. There’s no doubt about that. Tyler Johnson’s goal to make it 3-2 should have never happened, but it did. Crawford looked a bit shaky pretty much the whole night while allowing four goals. Having said that, aside from Johnson’s goal, you can’t really blame Crawford too much for the other three. On Tampa’s first goal of the game, Crawford was heavily screened and never had a good look at the shot. Their second goal, scored by Kucherov, was another crazy redirect giving Crow no chance of making a save. And their fourth goal came via another deflection, only this time the puck hit Andrew Desjardins’ stick. While Crawford did admit that he needs to be better, I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about here. Tampa Bay has scored some crazy goals this series, and there’s not much Crawford could do.
  • Toews, Kane, and Saad were held quiet again in Game 2. Give Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and the Cedric Paquette line credit for shutting these guys down. Towards the end of the game, Quenneville did elect to place Kane back on the second line while moving Hossa back up with Toews and Saad. With the series now shifting to Chicago where the Hawks will have the last change, it’ll be interesting to see if Q goes back to the Toews, Kane, and Saad line knowing he can now dictate the matchups. My guess is we will see this for at least the first period of Game 3. If that line is still not producing, then we’ll see Hossa back with Toews, and Kane with Richards. One thing to note is that in the 2010 Final against Philadelphia, Toews and Kane did nothing in games 1 and 2. They then woke up and came up big in games 3-6. In the 2013 Final against Boston, neither player did much of anything until Game 4. Those two both scored that game and were unstoppable the rest of the way.
  • Ben Bishop left Game 2 in the middle of the third period for about a minute, then returned to the ice. After a couple minutes back in the game, he left again, only this time he didn’t return. I thought for sure he was just sick or something like that, but it’s sounding more and more like this could be an injury. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance he’ll be on the bench Monday night meaning Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the start in goal. Vasilevskiy has 8 career NHL wins as a rookie this year. If he’s in net, the Hawks will need to quickly figure out how to beat this guy. We’re already two games into this series, so there’s no more time for a “feeling out” process. While this kid has some major talent and upside, this is still a tough spot for him to be called upon. The Blackhawks need to take advantage of that right away.
  • The back-to-back penalties that Patrick Sharp took in the third period Saturday night were obvious penalties that had to be called. The Hawks killed off the first one, but weren’t quite able to do the same on the second. He took full responsibility for this, but the fact of the matter is that the Hawks can’t do that again. You can’t take two straight penalties in the third period of a tie game.
  • Kyle Cumiskey may have played his last game of the series last night. He committed a costly turnover right before the Lightning’s first goal and wound up with a team-low 5:08 of ice time. Joel Quenneville said today that Trevor van Riemsdyk “could play” in Game 3, meaning he probably will. Depending on how well he plays in Game 3, he may not leave the lineup the rest of the way. David Rundblad had a better Game 2 than he did in the first game of this series, so odds are he’s not going anywhere.
  • After a very effective Game 1 performance, Kris Versteeg wasn’t as noticeable in Game 2. Like with TVR, Quenneville stated that Bryan Bickell “could play” Monday and that he thinks he’s healthy. If that’s the case, Bickell will be back for Versteeg in Game 3. This could open up more space for Patrick Kane if Q elects to play Kane on the second line.
  • Teuvo Teravainen is really, really good. He’s got a goal in two straight games to start the series now, with last night’s goal coming on the powerplay. He should be a fixture on the second PP unit from now on. His improved play has made not only the powerplay, but that third line even better. If only Patrick Sharp would show up and start scoring…

The Blackhawks made it clear that they are now looking forward to coming home for the next two games and feeding off the fans at the UC. Just like the Lightning did on their own ice, I’d expect the Hawks to come out flying to start the game Monday night. If they can get an early lead and build on it, they’ll be in good shape.

It will be pretty interesting to see which matchups Q will chase now that he gets the last change, but I’d have to believe he’ll try and get the Toews line out against any d-pairing besides Hedman and Stralman. No coach is better at getting favorable matchups on the ice than Q.

Game 3 is a big one. If the Hawks win that, then all the pressure in the world again shifts to Tampa Bay for Game 4.

Blackhawks Game 1 thoughts; Game 2 preview

10-171460575-smallThe truth of the matter is that the Blackhawks are coming into tonight’s Game 2 in Tampa Bay knowing very well that they need to step it up from the way they played throughout most of Game 1. The Lightning are coming into tonight’s game feeling pretty good about themselves after their Game 1 performance, or so it seems. Then you have what the national media is saying, and that sounds similar to what the Lightning are saying: “Tampa proved they can hang with and beat the Blackhawks based on how they came out in Game 1.”

Here’s what I’m saying:

We all fully expected, or at least should have expected, the Lightning to come out of the gates just as they did in the first game of this series. They had tons of energy, an overload of adrenaline, were playing at warp speed, and dominated most of the first period. This was to be expected.

The media and maybe even the Lightning players seem to believe that if the Lightning can just do that again for the rest of this series, they’ll win and be fine.

Since no one in the media seems to be saying it, I’ll say it: There is NO WAY that Tampa Bay can play with that much energy for an entire 60 minutes, let alone for the remainder of this series. It’s physically impossible. If you go back and watch the replay of the first period from Game 1, it won’t take more than two minutes to realize that the Lightning were jacked up on adrenaline (first game of the SCF, and on home ice) and using every ounce of energy they had in them. It’s not possible for a team to play that way for an entire game, or four, five or six. Counter my argument as you’d like, but I’m sticking by my words.

The second half of Game 1 was largely controlled by the Blackhawks, who were finally able to net two goals in a 1:58 span late in the third period to tie and win the game. They responded to Tampa’s fast start like the experienced champions that they are and walked away with a big win. All the pressure in the world now rests on the Lightning’s shoulders heading into Game 2.

Tampa Bay knows very well that they most likely cannot recover from a 2-0 series deficit with the series shifting to Chicago for games 3 and 4, thus making Game 2 a rare must-win.

On the Blackhawks’ side of things, they know that they didn’t play anywhere close to their best game in Game 1, yet still found a way to win. That in itself should give them some added confidence heading into tonight’s game.

So, what do we need to see from the Hawks tonight to get a 2-0 series lead?

  • More production from the top two lines. The Toews-Kane line was pretty ineffective for the most part in Game 1. They just couldn’t seem to get much going. Credit Cedric Paquette and his line for doing a nice job defensively against Toews and Kane. Their performance seems to have given Paquette some extra confidence heading into tonight, as he has stated he plans on “chirping” at Toews to get him off his game. (Yeah, good luck with that Cedric. Just ask Ryan Kesler how well that worked out for him…) I am definitely expecting more out of the Hawks’ top lines tonight. Rarely do they put together back-to-back bad games. If Quenneville sticks with Toews and Kane on the top line, those two and Saad are bound to get something going.
  • Continued production from third and fourth lines. The Hawks’ third line 15-_DSC2491-toresizeregistered both goals in Game 1, with Teravainen getting the first, and Vermette the second. I talked a lot about each team’s depth leading up to Game 1 and how that’s where the Blackhawks had the biggest advantage over Tampa. It proved to be true on Wednesday, and if the Hawks get more production from their bottom two lines tonight and as the series progresses, the Lightning will be in trouble.
  • Hold the “Triplets” in check again. The now famed “Triplets” line of the Lightning was hardly noticeable in Game 1. Tyler Johnson was held to just one shot the whole night, and that line never got much of anything going. This line has produced more goals than any other line for the Lightning this postseason, so limiting them is a death blow to Tampa. Again, as I said in my series preview, if the Hawks could find a way to just limit, not even shut down, one of Tampa Bay’s top two lines, the Hawks would be in good shape. They did just that in Game 1 and walked away with the victory.
  • Get good “D”. The Blackhawks’ top four defensemen played a pretty solid game Wednesday night from the end of the first period on. The fifth and sixth d-men had a bit more trouble. Specifically David Rundblad. This was the shakiest we have seen Rundblad since Game 1 against Anaheim last round, only this time it didn’t cost the Hawks. It looks like he’ll be back in there again in Game 2. Hopefully he got his “jitters” out of the way in Game 1 and will be more confident tonight. As for Kyle Cumiskey, he still has done nothing to warrant being taken out of the lineup. His in-zone coverage has been pretty good, his passing has been above average, and his speed is always a threat. He needs to simply keep doing what he’s doing.
  • Win some faceoffs. The Blackhawks were abysmal at the faceoff dot through the first half of Game 1. They won just 30 percent of the faceoffs in the first period, and ended the game having won 47 percent. Those numbers need to improve. Odds are that Jonathan Toews will not have another bad night in draws (45% in Game 1), but you never know. On the powerplay in Game 1, the Hawks lost all four faceoffs that they took. People wonder why they often have trouble getting the PP set up, and if you look at the fact that they went 0-4 at the dot with the man advantage, that should tell you something. Losing the draw means the opponent will clear the zone and dump the puck into your own end. Winning the offensive zone faceoffs on the powerplay, and at even strength, allows you to immediately set up in the offensive zone without having to get the puck in over the blue line.
  • Lastly, get the powerplay back on track. The Hawks’ powerplay is converting just over 18 percent of the time right now, which isn’t good enough given the personnel they have on the ice. They scored a couple big goals in Game 7 in Anaheim on the PP, but went 0-3 with the man advantage Wednesday night in Tampa. Given the fact that the Lightning have a pretty lethal powerplay and will eventually get a powerplay goal or two, the Hawks need to match that by doing the same. Had the Hawks scored even just once with the man advantage in Game 1, they would have had a much more comfortable victory. They have got to figure this thing out and start making Tampa pay for their penalties.

As I already said, Game 2 is a huge game for the Lightning. They cannot afford to go down two games to nothing with the series shifting north to Chicago where the Blackhawks are nearly unbeatable right now. At the same time, this is also a big game for the Hawks for the exact same reason. They know that if they get a win tonight, Tampa Bay will be backed up against a wall fighting for their life just three games into the series. Heading home up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final is a scenario any team would dream of.

Like was the case in Game 1, I’m expecting the Lightning to come out flying again in Game 2. The Hawks just need to hold their ground and weather the early storm. There’s no way the Lightning can play a full 60 minutes the way they played the first period on Wednesday, so getting through the first ten minutes tonight either tied or with the lead could be big for the Hawks.