Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford, Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus

It’s Chicago Blackhawks Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team?  The Chicago Blackhawks.

For more entries in this series, click here.

If you woke a Chicago Blackhawks fan up from a coma that began in 2007, they’d be stunned by this new reality: any season where the Blackhawks don’t hoist the Stanley Cup is now at least a mild disappointment or a flat-out failure (depending upon the perspective of the person you ask).

The Blackhawks enjoyed another nice regular season, although the shocking rise of the Colorado Avalanche and the logical next step of the St. Louis Blues left them in third place in the brutal Central Division … which may even be tougher top-to-bottom in 2014-15. Chicago got the last laugh against its division rivals in the playoffs, however, as the Avs fell in the first round while the Blackhawks dispatched the Blues in a first-round series that seemed more like a deeper postseason bout.

The funny thing about Duncan Keith winning the 2014 Norris Trophy is that the Blackhawks struggled to limit scoring more this season than in their dominant 2012-13 run. Keith was as dominant as advertised but others – even Brent Seabrook – had trouble, although Corey Crawford might be the easiest target since the ‘Hawks were still a dominant puck possession team.

Either way, their dazzling offense out-scored most of their problems … at least until the Los Angeles Kings showed that they were better at out-scoring their problems in a thrilling shooting gallery of a series.

That’s where the “loss that would be a proud year for most other franchises” bit comes in: if Chicago wants to evoke dynasty chatter, they need to thwart the Kings. It didn’t work out this time.

Offseason

The franchise-shaping offseason moves came in locking up Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to mammoth contract extensions. Those two deals will have far-reaching consequences that could force a trade or two as the 2014-15 season goes on (if not even a trade if the mood strikes before October rolls around).

Ultimately, the best news is that this team is largely intact and slightly-to-quite-improved, depending upon how well Brad Richards and Teuvo Teravainen fit into the mix. By most accounts, Michal Handzus long passed the point of usefulness, so potentially finding an improvement at the oft-cited second-line center spot could be a boon.

With players like Brandon Saad needing new deals soon, Patrick Sharp being the target of trade speculation and Marian Hossa breaking down a bit from all that mileage, one gets the feeling that the Blackhawks might be forced to make some tough decisions soon.

Whether it’s fair to the other contenders or not, many likely believe that the road to the Stanley Cup goes through Chicago and Los Angeles.

Forsberg’s three points push Predators past Sharks, 6-2

at SAP Center on October 28, 2015 in San Jose, California.
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NASVHILLE, Tenn. (AP) Recent call-up Viktor Arvidsson scored twice, Filip Forsberg had a goal and two assists and the Nashville Predators beat the San Jose Sharks 6-2 on Saturday night.

Pekka Rinne made 28 saves and James Neal, Calle Jarnkrok and Shea Weber also scored to help Nashville end a three-game home losing streak.

Joe Thornton and Logan Couture scored for the Sharks. Their 17-8-2 road record is the best in the Western Conference, and the Sharks fell to 9-2-2 in their last 13 games.

Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, regained his form after allowing six goals in a loss Thursday night to Philadelphia.

Arvidsson was recalled from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League on Monday.

San Jose goalie Martin Jones allowed five goals on 29 shots. He was 8-1-1 in his previous 10 starts and has an NHL-best 15-5-2 road record.

The Sharks dominated early and took eight of the game’s first nine shots, but Rinne stopped them all.

Nashville scored on its third shot when Neal fired a slap shot from the low slot past Jones 13:12 in. Neal leads the Predators with 19 goals.

Jarnkrok’s wrist shot from the mid-slot bounced over Jones’ glove and in for a 2-0 lead at 6:26 of the second period.

Johansen assisted on the play, giving him 14 points in 13 games since arriving in a trade with Columbus on Jan. 6.

Jarnkrok also scored in a 6-3 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday, giving him nine goals on the season.

Thornton cut Nashville’s lead in half when he swatted a loose puck in the crease into the net at 15:41 of the second period.

Nashville responded quickly when Arvidsson roofed a wrist shot that beat Jones glove side at 17:01 of the second period.

Forsberg’s short-handed goal built Nashville’s lead to 4-1 at 6:51 of the third period. He beat Jones with a wrist shot to the far post. Forsberg now has 101 career points.

Arvidsson scored his second goal on a 2-on-1 breakaway, deking Jones before sliding a backhander past him to give the Predators a 5-1 lead at 8:44 of the third period.

Couture’s slap shot narrowed the deficit to 5-2 at 13:37 of the third period.

Weber got an empty-net goal with 4:37 left.

Notes: Predators center Mike Ribeiro played in his 1,000th career game, becoming the 22nd active NHL player and 300th ever to reach the milestone. He was Montreal’s second-round pick in the 1998 draft. … Nine of the Sharks’ first 11 games after the All-Star break are on the road. … San Jose RW Joel Ward, 35, played three seasons for Nashville from 2008-11 early in his career. … Sharks right wing Joe Pavelski entered with eight game-winning goals, tied with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews for the most in the NHL.

Hockey tough: Mark Stone shakes off skate to face, scores

Ottawa Senators right wing Mark Stone celebrates his game winning goal during overtime against the Boston Bruins during an NHL hockey game in Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016.  The Senators defeated the Bruins 2-1. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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You’d think the reaction to taking a skate to the face would be something like “Not coming back to that game, getting some ice and maybe do some soul-searching.”

Nope, not in the NHL, at least.

In this league, the real reaction is almost always to come back to the same game … and barely miss a beat.

Ottawa Senators Mark Stone provides the latest example of hockey toughness, as he bounced back almost immediately from this.

What did he do? He scored a nice goal in the Senators’ 6-1 blowout of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.