Chicago Blackhawks v Calgary Flames

Why the Blackhawks shouldn’t be worried – yet

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If the Chicago Blackhawks put a lot of weight into rebounding immediately after allowing Sam Gagner to generate eight points, then Friday was a disappointing night.

The Calgary Flames topped them 3-1 to close out a forgettable set of back-to-back games for the ‘Hawks. It is an effort that might provide evidence of a team dealing with a bit of an identity crisis, at least if you ask ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers.

The Blackhawks certainly began the game like a team dealing with the burden of embarrassment. Chicago out-shot the Flames 13-6 in the first period but only managed a 1-1 tie. Michael Frolik’s high-sticking double-minor allowed Jay Bouwmeester to score a power play goal in the second period and Calgary was able to nurse that lead as Jarome Iginla made it 3-1 midway through the third. That ended up being the final score, as Calgary handed Chicago its fifth consecutive loss (0-4-1).

There are plenty of ways to look at this, and I’ll be honest: most of them are fairly positive. Chicago put together a torrid tear following its last embarrassing loss to Edmonton, but the Blackhawks started it off with a frustrating 1-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks.

Going further, the Blackhawks began 2012 going 0-3-1 before a nice 5-0-1 run. Perhaps this team is just experiencing a hot-and-cold run that afflicts most – if not all – of the NHL’s teams.

Amid all that positivity, one must acknowledge red flags, though. The Blackhawks are an explosive team, but they’re beginning to resemble the “Seven Seconds or Less”* Phoenix Suns in that their offensive brilliance is accompanied by defensive incompetence.

If you’ll ask any person who ruined things for Bruce Boudreau in Washington, offense-first doesn’t work in the playoffs – period. Those types will be quick to doubt that the Blackhawks are a “true” Stanley Cup contender despite their jaw-dropping high-end talent and 2010 rings.

***

Either way, there’s no denying that GM Stan Bowman is looking to give the team a little more balance by improving the defensive depth. Personally, I’m not too concerned in the grand scheme of things, but how do you feel about Chicago’s defensive worries?

* – Full disclosure: the Drew Doughty goal controversy makes me want to call the Los Angeles Kings the “.4 seconds or less” team, though.

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.