Here’s a look at the Chicago Blackhawks' playoff picture heading into Tuesday’s games:
What happened Monday: The Blackhawks won for the second consecutive day and defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 4-1, at the United Center. It was one of the Blackhawks’ more impressive games in some time. The Vancouver Canucks also defeated the St. Louis Blues, 4-1, and the Calgary Flames topped the Dallas Stars, 5-3.
Central Division standings: 1. Predators, 102 points in 77 games; 2. Blues, 99 points in 76 games; 3. Blackhawks, 98 points in 76 games; 4. Minnesota Wild, 95 points in 76 games; 5. Jets, 90 points in 76 games.
Wild-card standings: 1. Wild, 95 points in 76 games; 2. Jets, 90 points in 76 games; 3. Kings, 88 points in 76 games; 4. Dallas Stars, 84 points in 77 games.
Blackhawks’ playoff outlook: The Blackhawks are feeling good about themselves again. The Blackhawks are planted back in the Central Division race after their back-to-back wins. It’s still the Predators’ division to lose, but it remains a three-team race. It's also becoming more apparent just how big next week's games between the Blackhawks and Blues will be.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville carried the confidence of a politician who believed his election bid was gaining momentum following his team's 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.
It had been only four nights since Quenneville stood before the media in the same spot and ran down all of his team's faults. From offense to defense to special teams, he was displeased. The Blackhawks were on the verge of being knocked into a wild-card spot, and were quickly running out of to time to correct their issues. On Friday, Quenneville sounded like a coach who understood all of that.
By Monday evening, the Blackhawks had put Quenneville in a better frame of mind. With wins over the Winnipeg Jets and Kings on consecutive days, the Blackhawks had defeated two desperate teams, were firmly back into the Central Division playoffs and had made up ground on the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues.
When Quenneville was asked whether Chicago could make a run at first-place Nashville, which is four points ahead and has played one more game than the Blackhawks, Quenneville didn't duck the question. His confidence led him into it.
"I think our objective is to make the playoffs, finish as high as we can, win the division," Quenneville said. "That's where we want to go. That's one step at a time."
Those steps seemed gigantic after the way the Blackhawks played against the Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets in their previous four games. Their offense and defense had dropped off and they were outscored 14-6 during those contests.
"Wasn't the way we want to play at all," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said of those four games. "You know you go through stretches during the season that's not going to be that great, but that was pretty ugly, those four games."
It's not as if Sunday's 4-3 victory over the Jets was exactly picturesque, either. The Blackhawks couldn't take the puck away from the Jets early in the game and allowed three special-teams goals they could have easily prevented. But Sunday's objective was never to play pretty hockey -- just winning hockey. Chicago achieved that by continuing to scrap, and ultimately scored the winning goal in the final minute.
Monday's victory was a different story. The Blackhawks were feeling good and played as well as they have in some time. They created chances early and kept them coming. The Kings entered Monday's contest allowing a league-low 27 shots per game, and the Blackhawks surpassed that by the second period. The Kings are also one of the top possession teams in the league, and Chicago was a plus-10 Corsi on the night.
"Sometimes when you're thrown right back into it real quickly the next night -- and we're coming off a big win and good emotion from the last game -- it can carry over," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "I thought we did that. We had a good period, and I thought we had a real solid team game all the way through."
Two of the main reasons for the Blackhawks' turnaround were their defensemen getting more involved in the offense, and their four-line rotation.
Chicago's defense hasn't been much of an offensive factor this season. Most of the unit's production numbers have been down, and Nick Leddy's absence has been felt. In the past two games, however, the defense was more active. Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Keith scored or had the primary assist on four of the Blackhawks' past eight goals.
"Yeah, it helps a lot," Oduya said. "It takes some of the pressure off the forwards. They got a lot of pressure on them to score goals. Sometimes [to] chip in a couple of goals or even get into plays and create some more space is important. We want to attack five guys and defend five guys. That's something that's key for us."
Another key for the Blackhawks in the past has been a consistent four-line rotation. Quenneville has been excessive with his line blender in recent weeks, and it hadn't created much consistency. In Chicago's two recent victories, Quenneville stuck with his lines and used them throughout.
The Blackhawks have particularly benefited from the fourth line of Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Teuvo Teravainen the past two games. The line had the best Corsi numbers Monday, and Teravainen had a game-high eight shots.
"They did a great job tonight," Quenneville said. "They had the puck a lot, good recognition to feed off of one another, good rotation in the zone, had some quick looks at the net, good play recognition with the puck and good presence with it. Teuvo, and Desi -- I thought he had his best game. It was a nice couple of games as well."
Overall, Quenneville felt the Blackhawks had answered his call.
"Certainly a nice response to a couple tough losses," Quenneville said. "Knowing that the challenge was tough. You know we lost a placing in the standing, and a great response."
Marian Hossa added a goal and an assist as the Blackhawks won their second straight game in as many nights and pulled within a point of the second-place Blues in the Central Division. Chicago plays St. Louis twice in its final six games.
Jake Muzzin scored for the defending champion Kings, who dropped their second straight in the finale of a five-game road trip. They also lost ground to Calgary in their bid for the final playoff berth in the West.
How it happened: The Blackhawks separated themselves from the Kings during the first five minutes of the second period. With the game tied 1-1, the Blackhawks had four quality scoring chances and converted on two. Duncan Keith put Chicago up 2-1 with a power-play goal 1 minute, 37 seconds in before Niklas Hjalmarsson added to the lead with a marker from the slot at 2:41. Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling made 31 saves. The Blackhawks also received goals from Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa. Jake Muzzin accounted for the Kings' lone goal. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.
What it means: The Blackhawks' playoff outlook could have looked a lot of different if they had lost to the Winnipeg Jets and Kings on consecutive days. Instead, the Blackhawks won both games and are headed in the right direction with six games remaining, improving to 46-24-6. They have 98 points after 76 games and moved within a point of the St. Louis Blues for second place in the Central Division. The Blues have 99 points through 76 games. The Nashville Predators are in first place with 102 points through 77 games. The Blackhawks lead the Minnesota Wild by three points. The Kings, meanwhile, dropped to 37-25-14 and finished their five-game road trip with a 3-2-0 record.
Player of the game: Hjalmarsson continued to improve his goal differential for March. He has a plus-11 goal differential in 5-on-5 play for the month.
Stat of the game: The Kings came into the game allowing a league-low 27 shots on goal per game. The Blackhawks had 29 after just two periods and finished with 40.
What's next: The Blackhawks remain home and play the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. The Blackhawks are 0-1-1 against the Canucks this season.
The Chicago Blackhawks are hoping similar news will arrive soon about Patrick Kane, who also had surgery last month. Kane’s 12-week timetable hasn’t changed since the forward suffered a fractured clavicle Feb. 24, but it hasn’t stopped Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville from sounding as if Kane could be back sooner than first expected.
“You watch him today, he does everything you want him to do, or he wants to do, so I guess now we’ll just listen,” Quenneville prior to Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings. “I would feel he would be ready to go as soon as he gets [medical] clearance. So that’s what we’re waiting for.
“I think there’s been excellent progress, so it could be good news, but we’ll see.”
As with Rose, being cleared for contact will be a major hurdle for Kane.
“Not to get too technical on the injury itself, but you’re coming off an injury, the physicality part is always a test,” Quenneville said. “So I think that’s all part of it.”
Kane was tied for the league lead in points prior at the time of his injury, with 27 goals and 37 assists in 61 games. The Blackhawks have gone 9-4-1 without Kane in the lineup.
The Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa and the Los Angeles Kings' Anze Kopitar are not having their best offensive seasons, yet most people around the league would still be grateful for their current numbers. Hossa has 21 goals and 54 points, and he may end up with his lowest goal total in an 82-game season since his rookie year. Kopitar has 16 goals and 60 points, and he hasn't had less than 25 goals in a full season since his rookie year.
What makes Hossa and Kopitar unique is that even when they're not pouring on points they still can impact games. Whether it's Hossa knocking a puck loose while backchecking, Kopitar making life hell for opposing forwards with his constant activity or the way both of them can be utilized in every situation, Hossa and Kopitar remain priceless because they do so much more than score.
The two players will meet in Chicago on Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
"Hossa is consistently one of the best players on the ice each night," one Western Conference scout said. "Rarely could you ever say he had an off night. With Kopitar, he does everything so well. That combined with his size makes him tough to handle."
- Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks clinched a playoff berth Saturday against the New York Islanders, and a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday wrapped up a five-game road trip and extinguished the Devils’ postseason hopes in the process. With their third consecutive win, the Ducks are aiming for the Presidents’ Trophy with a three-point lead on the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators for the league’s best overall record.
- Minnesota Wild: With five straight wins, and seven of their past eight, the Wild are peaking at the right time heading into the final days of the regular season. And though the Wild have leaned heavily on goalie Devan Dubnyk, he has shown no signs of a letdown. Dubnyk, who has been sensational since he was acquired from Arizona at midseason, made his 34th consecutive start in Saturday’s 4-1 victory against the Los Angeles Kings. His 31-save effort, which came in the second game of a back-to-back, improved his record to 26-6-1 since joining the Wild.
- Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: Byfuglien’s two-goal performance wasn’t enough to secure a victory for the Jets in Sunday’s grudge match against the Chicago Blackhawks -- which resulted in a 4-3 Hawks win courtesy of a late goal from Winnipeg native Jonathan Toews -- but Byfuglien's return to the Jets' lineup has been a major plus for Winnipeg. After missing nine straight games, Byfuglien has rattled off three goals in the past two games. That’s a good sign for a team that is desperate to keep a hold on the second wild-card spot in the West.
- Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues: Elliott got the chance to redeem himself with his first start in a week in Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and it wasn’t the type of bounce-back performance he would have liked. Elliott gave up three goals on 16 shots as questions linger about the Blues' goaltending heading into the playoffs.
- Blackhawks’ power play: The Hawks entered Sunday’s game against the Jets with only one power-play goal on their previous 12 attempts. The good news for Chicago is that the team scored on its first man-up opportunity of the match in Winnipeg, but the PP unit is still smarting from the absence of injured forward Patrick Kane. And while a lethal power play is not a must in the playoffs -- in fact, the Hawks won the Cup in 2013 with a power play that was 13th among 16 teams in the postseason -- it could certainly help considering the strength of their opponents, especially within their own division.
- Preds without captain: The Predators also clinched a playoff spot over the weekend, but they had to play the last two games without franchise defenseman Shea Weber. Weber is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
- Sharks depleted on D: The San Jose Sharks return home after a grueling seven-game road stretch, but they may play Wednesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche without top defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is expected to be re-evaluated Monday as the Sharks await further details about the severity of his injury.
What to watch for
- Make or break for Canucks: The Vancouver Canucks have been a resilient bunch, especially in the wake of an injury to starting goaltender Ryan Miller. The team faces another big test on a four-game road trip that very well may determine whether the team advances to the postseason. The Canucks, who lead the Calgary Flames by two points for second place in the Pacific Divison, have four of the toughest opponents to face during that stretch, with stops in St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago and Winnipeg.
- Goalie trouble in St. Louis: Blues coach Ken Hitchcock did his best to dispel any growing sense of controversy between the pipes in St. Louis, emphatically endorsing Elliott as the team’s starter heading into the playoffs. But with Jake Allen earning consecutive starts last week, you have to at least wonder about the postseason. If Elliott struggles in the final stretch during the regular season, just how short of a leash does he have?
- Battle royale: The Flames, Jets and Kings are locked in a battle for the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference with the clubs tight in the standings. The Kings trail the Flames and Jets by one and two points, respectively, but have a game in hand on both clubs heading into this week’s action.
Here’s a look at the Chicago Blackhawks’ playoff picture heading into Monday’s games:
What happened Sunday: The Blackhawks snapped a two-game losing streak, worked their way out of a wild-card spot and moved back into the Central Division playoffs when Jonathan Toews scored a go-ahead goal in the final minute to defeat the Winnipeg Jets, 4-3. The Calgary Flames defeated the Nashville Predators, 5-2.
What to watch for Monday: The Blackhawks return home to face the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings dropped back out of the playoffs Sunday and are desperate for points. The Blackhawks and Kings split their previous games this season. The St. Louis Blues also host the Vancouver Canucks, and the Flames travel to play the Dallas Stars.
Central Division standings: 1. Predators, 102 points in 77 games; 2. Blues, 99 points in 75 games; 3. Blackhawks, 96 points in 75 games; 4. Minnesota Wild, 95 points in 76 games; 5. Jets, 90 points in 76 games.
Wild-card standings: 1. Wild, 95 points in 76 games; 2. Jets, 90 points in 76 games; 3. Kings, 88 points in 75 games; 4. Stars, 84 points in 76 games.
Blackhawks’ playoff outlook: Sunday’s victory was a significant one for the Blackhawks. Their game was shaky at times and they again allowed a number of goals, but they found a way to get back in the win column and keep the Jets from picking up a point. The Blackhawks have just seven games remaining, and almost all of them will be challenging. They finish off a back-to-back with the Kings on Monday and have another set of back-to-back games with the Canucks on Thursday and Buffalo Sabres on Friday.
Blackhawks remaining schedule: Kings (Monday), Canucks (Thursday), at Sabres (Friday), Blues (April 5), Wild (April 7), at Blues (April 9), at Colorado Avalanche (April 11).
Special to ESPNChicago.com
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Jonathan Toews preached urgency this morning, and with 30.8 seconds left in Sunday night's game, he defined its meaning.
After battling back from being down a goal on two occasions, the Chicago Blackhawks stole all the spoils on a goal from their captain with a half-minute left in regulation. The 4-3 Chicago win over the Winnipeg Jets boosted the Blackhawks back into third place in the Central Division, with a game in hand on idle Minnesota.
"It was big considering the difference it makes, getting two points instead of just one more than them," Toews said. "It was nice for us to scrape our way back into that one and find a way to win at the end. I think we did a lot of good things, made a few mistakes that ended up in the back of our nets, but for the most part we didn't give up much."
"To score in the last minute of the game and to steal both points and to keep them from getting any was really big for us," added Patrick Sharp, whose third-period marker tied the game.
Sharp said the Blackhawks knew the position they were in when they woke up this morning, and knew they needed to fix it.
"You've seen your name where it was for the most part of the season, and when it slides down it should be a bit of a wake-up call. We responded well," he said.
The Blackhawks left the ice down 3-2 after 40 minutes, a spot from which they'd managed to win only five out of 17 attempts this season.
"We stuck with it … we had some more zip tonight," said Corey Crawford, who made 31 saves for his 31st win of the season. "It was nice to see our guys creating that much offense. We were definitely feeling it tonight."
"I don't think anyone panicked; no one lost their cool," Toews added. "We've all been in situations like that before, whether it's playoffs or regular season. We talked this morning on relying on our experience, and I think we did that here."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said the team regrouped during the second intermission.
"The attitude going out to the third period was, 'Hey, we've got a lot of good things, let's go for 20 and see what happens,'" Quenneville said. "We scored two gigantic goals and got through a kill. [At] the end of the day, you look back at some of the big wins we've had, this will probably be at No. 1."
Quenneville was more than happy to beat a team that has beaten his to a pulp this season. But he was also more than willing to heap praise on the fight Winnipeg gave his team on Sunday night.
"They're a hardworking bunch, there is not a lot of time," Quenneville said. "They press, they're physical, they are on you, they're at you. I got to commend them -- they are probably the hardest-working team there is in this league."
The loss also ended Winnipeg's four-game winning streak at home. It was the second game of a four-game homestand. Winnipeg hosts the New York Rangers on Tuesday.
Special to ESPNChicago.com
How it happened: Despite the Jets dominating most of the opening frame, it was the Blackhawks who had the upper hand on the scoreboard after Andrew Shaw's 13th goal, which came on the power play. Dustin Byfuglien tied the game with sheer brute force early in the second period after barreling in to a fracas in front of Corey Crawford. Winnipeg took the lead three minutes later when a nifty move from Blake Wheeler for his 25th goal beat Crawford short-handed. Brad Richards tied the game with his 12th late in the second, but it was the Jets who had the last laugh in the period as Byfuglien struck again on the power play. A little help from the linesman gave Patrick Sharp a clear break on goal, and the winger made no mistake for his 14th score to tie the game. Jonathan Toews scored with 30.8 seconds left to snatch the win.
What it means: The Blackhawks grab two points for just the second time in five games and move themselves back into third place in the Central Division. Chicago sits on 96 points now, while the Wild have 95. The Blackhawks have a game in hand over the Wild. Winnipeg drops back to six points adrift with the regulation loss.
Player of the game: Byfuglien scored twice on the power play and now has three goals in two games since returning from a nine-game stint on the sidelines with an upper-body injury. The former Blackhawk has 18 goals on the season for the Jets.
Stat of the game: Chicago registered just two shots on goal in the first 15 minutes but ended the period with seven and a 1-0 lead.
What's next: The Blackhawks play the second half of a back-to-back against the Los Angeles Kings at home on Monday night. The Hawks are 1-1 against the Kings this season.
ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Chicago Blackhawks forward prospect Mark McNeill probably gets his first NHL call-up if he remains healthy for another week or two in November.
McNeill had been on roll for the AHL's Rockford IceHogs in the season’s first 14 games. He had produced nine goals and seven assists. But then his season was knocked off its tracks when he suffered a knee injury while blocking a shot on Nov. 15. Just as McNeill went down, the Blackhawks were dealing with their own injury issues and shuffling their lineup. Luck wasn't on his side.
“He had an unfortunate injury at a time when we were making some changes in our roster, calling some guys up,” Blackhawks assistant general manager Norm Maciver said recently. “He blocked a shot in a game against Milwaukee, and he was out for four weeks. Prior to that, that line of [Garret] Ross, [Philip] Danault and McNeill had been exceptional. Mark was a big part of that.”
McNeill is still waiting on his first NHL call-up, but his missed chance in November doesn’t bother him. He remains confident his time will come, and he’s planning for a long NHL career once it does.
“I got injured. That’s just the way it is," said the 22-year-old McNeill, a Blackhawks’ 2011 first-round draft choice. "Now it’s behind me. I still got to keep working toward that first call-up.
“I’m hungry. I want the opportunity. But nothing is going to be handed to me. I got to work for everything. That’s a goal of mine I’m still excited to achieve.”
McNeill’s injury not only impacted his NHL opportunity, but also his game. He sat out a month due to the injury and didn’t immediately return to form. He had five goals and four assists in his first 26 games back from the injury. He finally got into a groove again in late February and has had six goals and five assists in the last 13 games.
Here’s a look at the Chicago Blackhawks' playoff picture heading into Sunday’s games:
What happened Saturday: The Minnesota Wild defeated the Los Angeles Kings and overtook the Blackhawks for third place in the Central Division. The Nashville Predators clinched a playoff berth with a 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals, and the St. Louis Blues lost 4-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
What to watch for Sunday: All of the Blackhawks' remaining games will be important, but Sunday is one of the bigger ones as they play the Winnipeg Jets on the road. The Jets are nipping on the Blackhawks' heels and have had success against the Blackhawks this season. The Jets have gone 3-0-1 against them. The people of Winnipeg haven't had a playoff team since 1996, so the atmosphere should be electric on Sunday. The other game of note Sunday will be the Predators hosting the Calgary Flames.
Central Division standings: 1. Predators, 102 points in 76 games; 2. Blues, 99 points in 75 games; 3. Wild, 95 points in 76 games; 4. Blackhawks, 94 points in 74 games; 5. Jets, 90 points in 75 games.
Wild card standings: 1. Blackhawks, 94 points in 74 games; 2. Jets, 90 points in 75 games; 3. Flames, 87 points in 75 games; 4. Dallas Stars, 84 points in 76 games.
Blackhawks’ playoff outlook: The Blackhawks were 25-10-2 and leading the Central Division as of Jan. 1. The Blackhawks have gradually slid down the standings. Saturday marked the first time they had fallen into a wild-card spot in 2015. They had a 17-point lead on the Wild after defeating them on Jan. 11. Since that date, the Blackhawks have gone 16-11-4 and the Wild have gone 26-7-2. The Blackhawks would need a horrendous finish to find themselves out of the playoffs. Their remaining head-to-head matchups with the Jets and Wild will be especially important games to determine where each team finishes.
Blackhawks remaining schedule: at Jets (Sunday), Kings (Monday), Vancouver Canucks (Thursday), at Buffalo Sabres (Friday), Blues (April 5), Wild (April 7), at Blues (April 9), at Colorado Avalanche (April 11).