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Blackhawks want, and need, more from Brandon Saad

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The Chicago Blackhawks were a popular preseason pick to finish in last place in the Central Division. They were coming off a down year, had an uncertain goaltending situation with Corey Crawford still sidelined, and the roster has its share of holes on paper. Through the first four games of the season, however, the Blackhawks are off to a better than expected started, gaining at least a point in each game with a 2-0-2 record.

The biggest reason for the fast start has been Jonathan Toews‘ discovery of the fountain of youth as he looks to bounce back from a down year, as well as the continued development of Alex DeBrincat. That duo, along with Patrick Kane, has carried the Blackhawks’ offense through the first four games and allowed them to overcome some sub-par defense and more bad goaltending.

[Related: Blackhawks should get used to winning ugly]

Eventually they are going to need more from someone that isn’t one of Toews, DeBrincat or Kane. One player at the top of that list is veteran forward Brandon Saad, who has not only not given them much yet this season, but seems to have been demoted to the fourth-line based on Friday’s practice lines.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville simply said that the team needs to see more from him.

Here is what Quenneville had to say on Friday, via NBC Chicago’s Charlie Roumeliotis.

“Saad needs a little bit more consistency with the puck. Losing pucks, we want to make sure, if you are going to lose it, there’s still another level of keeping the puck and not ending it there in that situation. That’s one area he can be better.

“But I still think there’s production there. He’s had some looks. We’re looking for more of the finished product, as we saw those situations come up last year, as well. Krugs’ line always seems to generate something. That line can have more of a purpose defensively and can be an effective line because they usually get some top lines and sometimes they can be exposed in some situations.”

Saad’s career has been a strange one because there is obviously enormous potential with him, but it hasn’t always panned out as expected.

He ended up falling in his draft class, going from at one point a projected top-five pick, all the way down to the back end of the second round following a down year in his draft year. When he first arrived in Chicago he became a key part of a Stanley Cup winning team and looked to be an emerging star in the league. But a salary cap crunch saw him sent him to Columbus after that championship season where he signed a long-term contract. It was at that point that his production leveled off and he eventually found himself back in Chicago prior to the 2017-18 season in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

At the time, the Blackhawks were coming off of a second straight disappointing first-round exit and had some long-term concerns about their ability to re-sign Panarin and fit him under the salary cap.

That resulted in the reunion between the two sides.

Just a little more than one year into it and it is not going well.

While Panarin continued to be an impact player in Columbus, Saad had the worst season of his career in his return to the Blackhawks only 18 goals and 35 total points in 82 games, while somehow managing just a single point on the power play despite logging more than 174 minutes on the man-advantage.

His lack of production and his play did not go unnoticed.

Before the season started The Athletic‘s Scott Powers (sub. required) quoted two anonymous NHL scouts giving scathing reviews of Saad’s play, including one that said, “I think Saad is a guy who plays for a contract. I’m not convinced that he’s a guy who plays for you every night.”

Harsh.

And now, just four games into the season with only a single point and seven shots on goal on the stat sheet, he finds himself skating on the fourth line.

Saad is better than this, and while his 2017-18 numbers were a spectacular disappointment (especially in comparison to what the guy he was traded for did) but there were still signs he could have been better and should be able to bounce back. He was an elite possession player, and you have to think that power play production almost has to get better even if he just stood there and did nothing (one power play point in 174 minutes!).

If the Blackhawks are going to bounce back this season and be better than expected there are three players that have to drive that bus: A healthy Corey Crawford, Jonathan Toews, and Saad. They are getting it so far from Toews, and they are hopeful Crawford can return this week.

Now they just need to get something — anything, really — from Saad.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Elimination Friday; Maple Leafs’ miracle

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  • There were five teams eliminated on Friday, including a couple of favorites.
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs pull off an incredible comeback.
  • Chris Tanev makes some history for the Vancouver Canucks.

New York Islanders 5, Florida Panthers 1 (Islanders win series 3-1)

Anthony Beauvillier scored a pair of goals to help the Islanders easily knock off the Florida Panthers and advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was an ugly day for Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as he badly struggled in the loss, starting with the first goal he allowed to Beauvillier from a terrible angle. The Islanders were lousy down the stretch run of the regular season but had the perfect matchup to get back on track in the qualifying round. They await their Round 1 opponent, which will be determined this weekend.

Arizona Coyotes 4, Nashville Predators 3 (OT) (Coyotes win series 3-1)

One of the many upsets to highlight the qualifying round. The Coyotes won a series for the first time since 2012 thanks to a brilliant goaltending performance from Darcy Kuemper and Brad Richardson‘s series-clinching overtime goal on Friday. If you look at this series objectively Nashville did not play as bad as the result would have you believe, it just ran into a white-hot goalie that made every big save. Still, that is not going to be much consolation for a team that underachieved in the standings all season and has been regressing for a couple of years now.

Montreal Canadiens 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 0 (Canadiens win series 3-1)

Speaking of upsets. The Canadiens, the 24th ranked team in the NHL during the regular season, eliminated the heavily favored Penguins on Friday with a 2-0 win. Carey Price gets the shutout in this one, but the Penguins rarely challenged him in a shockingly lackluster performance. Montreal completely dictated the pace of play starting with the second period of Game 3, never allowing the Penguins to generate any kind of consistent offense over the final four-and-a-half periods of the series.

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Edmonton Oilers 2 (Blackhawks win series 3-1)

Classic Jonathan Toews showed up in this series as the Blackhawks wrapped up the other 12 vs. 5 upset in the play-in round. Dominik Kubalik‘s third period goal completed a sensational series for the rookie, while starting goalie Corey Crawford was a wall in net for the Blackhawks who now find themselves in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after being sellers at the trade deadline.

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (Series tied 2-2)

Is this the game that turns everything around for the Maple Leafs’ core? They trailed 3-0 with four minutes to play in regulation and were on the verge of their most disappointing playoff exit in the Auston Matthews/William Nylander/Mitch Marner era. Then they gave themselves an opportunity to salvage it all with one of the wildest comebacks in NHL history.

Vancouver Canucks 5, Minnesota Wild 4 (OT) (Canucks win series 3-1)

The Vancouver Canucks are headed to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after they eliminated the Minnesota Wild. They came-from-behind three different times in this game — including from a two-goal deficit midway through the second period — to get the win. Tanner Pearson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, and Chris Tanev were the big stars in this one, with Horvat tying the game late in the third period to set the stage for Tanev’s series-clinching goal just 11 seconds into overtime.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks. Toews and Kubalik were great all series, but we are going to pick Crawford as the top star here. He was the most underrated part of the Blackhawks’ championship core in their Stanley Cup days and is one of the biggest reasons they are moving on here. Friday was his best game of the series as he stopped 43 out of 45 shots in the win.

2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. Matthews finished with three points and scored the overtime winner as the Maple Leafs completed one of the most improbable comebacks in recent postseason memory. Had Toronto not won this game he and the rest of the Maple Leafs’ big-money core would have spent the entire offseason under the microscope. Now they have a chance to salvage the series and their season.

3. Chris Tanev, Vancouver Canucks. Just a huge game for the veteran defenseman on Friday night. He played 24 minutes and finished with three points, assisting on the late game-tying goal and then winning the game — and the series — just 11 seconds into overtime.

Highlights of the Night

Matthews completes Toronto’s insane comeback with this overtime goal.

Tanev scores just 11 seconds into overtime.

Brad Richardson sends the Arizona Coyotes to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with his overtime winner.

Factoids

  • The Maple Leafs are the first team in NHL history (regular season or postseason) to win a game by overcoming a three-goal deficit after losing a game where they had a three-goal lead. [NHL PR]
  • Dominik Kubalik is just the fourth Blackhawks rookie to score a series-clinching goal. [NHL PR]
  • The Coyotes win their first postseason series since the 2011-12 season when they went to the Western Conference Final. [NHL PR]
  • Chris Tanev’s overtime goal is tied for the second-fastest overtime goal in NHL postseason history. [NHL PR]

Saturday’s Schedule

Round-Robin: Colorado Avalanche vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 3 p.m. ET, NBC
Round-Robin: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 8 p.m. ET, NBC

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Canucks’ Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT to eliminate Wild

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The Vancouver Canucks are moving on.

They eliminated the Minnesota Wild on Friday night with a 5-4 overtime win that saw them come-from-behind on three different occasions.

Defenseman Chris Tanev scored the series-clinching goal just 11 seconds into overtime, giving the Canucks their first series win since the 2010-11 season.

That goal is tied for the second-fastest OT goal in NHL postseason history (Brian Skrudland scored nine seconds into overtime in a 1986 game for the Montreal Canadiens). You can see the goal in the video above.

The win for the Canucks now sets the eight-team playoff field in the Western Conference (Vegas, Colorado, St. Louis, Dallas, Calgary, Vancouver, Arizona, Chicago) while the actual matchups will be determined when the round-robin phase is concluded this weekend.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Tanev’s goal on Friday is the first postseason goal of his career and capped off a massive game that saw him finish with three points (goal, two assists) in 24 minutes of ice-time.

Along with the game-winner, he also assisted on Bo Horvat‘s game-tying goal with just under six minutes to play in regulation.

At one point the Canucks trailed this game 3-1 and quickly erased it thanks to a pair of goals from Brandon Sutter and Quinn Hughes just 84 seconds apart midway through the second period. Hughes, one of the finalists for the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year and a significant part of the Canucks’ young core, was one of the Canucks’ most impressive players on Friday by logging a team-high 27 minutes of ice time and recording a pair of points. Keep in mind he is still only 20 years old and along with Horvat, Brock Boeser, and Elias Pettersson gives the Canucks a wonderful quartet of young stars to build around.

As for the Wild, this has to be a brutally disappointing result.

When the 2019-20 regular season was paused they were one of the hotter teams in the Western Conference and making a strong push for a playoff spot. It was far from a given that they would play their way in, but they at least gave themselves a chance. Then they opened this series by shutting out the Canucks in Game 1, giving themselves an early edge in the series. They were unable to build on that thanks to a couple of clunkers in Games 2 and 3, and then Friday’s game where they allowed multiple leads to slip away with their season on the line.

It is entirely possible that this game will be the last time Mikko Koivu, one of the finest players in franchise history, suits up for the Wild.

Next for the Wild: Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL draft lottery on Monday where they will have a 12.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (VAN wins series 3-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks 3, Wild 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks 5, Wild 4 (OT)

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Maple Leafs force Game 5, stay alive thanks to unbelievable comeback

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The Toronto Maple Leafs were four minutes away from being completely buried.

Four minutes away from having the longest offseason this core of players had ever had to deal with in terms of criticism and scrutiny.

Four minutes away from maybe dealing with the possibility of major changes coming to a team that — to this point — has been unable to get over the hump in the postseason.

That is when the madness started.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just 24 hours after blowing a three-goal lead to lose in overtime, the Maple Leafs flipped the script and erased a three-goal deficit with four minutes to play in regulation to force overtime. It was there that they completed one of the most improbable comebacks in postseason history when Auston Matthews scored a power play to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 win.

And with that, everything comes down to a winner-take-all Game 5 on Sunday for the right to advance to the field of 16 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It really cannot be understated as to how insane all of this was, and the perfect confluence of events that needed to happen for Toronto to win this game.

For 56 minutes the Maple Leafs were unable to solve Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins, and when Boone Jenner scored with under seven minutes to play in the third period to give his team a three-goal lead everything seemed over in Toronto.

But with Frederik Andersen pulled for the extra attacker, Toronto started to chip away.

William Nylander started the comeback with 3:57 to play when he scored a goal that — at the time — seemed to be pointless window dressing.

When John Tavares scored less than a minute later to cut the deficit to one, things really started to get interesting.

Even then Toronto needed some extra help to go its way.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Game 3 hero for Columbus, had an opportunity to put the game away with an empty-net sitting in front of him, only to have his shot hit the outside of the net. Just a few moments later, Gustav Nyquist failed to gain the red line with the puck when he could have taken a shot at another empty net and gave the puck away, giving Toronto another chance.

The Maple Leafs did not waste the chance. With just 23 seconds to play in regulation Zach Hyman scored the game-tying goal to send the game to overtime. Matthews scored midway through the period, capitalizing on a Nick Foligno tripping penalty.

During their late third period comeback Toronto had the same combination of players on the ice: Matthews, Nylander, Tavares, Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman, and Morgan Rielly.

With that, Toronto now has a chance to salvage what could have been a disastrous postseason appearance. And who knows, if they lose Game 5 on Sunday all of the things mentioned up at the top (the criticism, the scrutiny, the potential changes) could still happen. This is, after all, a team that is supposed to compete for a Stanley Cup. Losing in the play-in round after three straight Round 1 exits would be awful for the perception of this core. But this win gives them a chance to fight another day and change the narrative around this team. If they do manage to do that and go on a postseason run from here, those four minutes are going be talked about for years.

As for Columbus, well, this has the potential to be the stuff of nightmares.

They had this game — and the series — all but won. If you go buy the win probability stat, they had a 99.3 percent chance of winning this game with five minutes to play.

All they had to do was avoid a meltdown, and they would have been a giant slayer for the second year in a row. But the meltdown happened.

The Blue Jackets were never supposed to be in this position this season after losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene to free agency, and then dealing with a season-long run of injuries. No one would have blamed them or given it a second thought if they badly regressed or fell off the map. If they are unable to bounce back in Game 5 on Sunday this is going to be the game that will be impossible for them to shake. It was right there. They had it.

Now it all comes down to Sunday.

Honestly, it is the perfect game — and perfect series — for the unpredictable mayhem that the 2019-20 season has been.

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 2-2)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 3 [OT] (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs 4, Blue Jackets 3 [OT]
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs (if necessary), TBD

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Canucks-Wild stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Canucks-Wild stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canucks and Wild. Coverage begins at 10:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canucks-Wild Game 4 stream at 10:45 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After being shut out in Game 1, Vancouver responded with a 4-3 win over Minnesota in Game 2 and followed that up with a 3-0 victory in Game 3 on Thursday. Now the Canucks will look to win on back-to-back days and clinch their first playoff series win since 2011, when they made it to the Cup Final.

“Our players need to gain experience in these type of games, but we’re not just here to get experience,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green. “We want to win the games.”

Minnesota missed the playoffs last season and is now in danger of losing in the opening round of the postseason for the fourth time in the last five years.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, August 7, 10:45 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Chris Cuthbert, Louie DeBrusk
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canucks-Wild live look-in stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (VAN leads 2-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks 3, Wild 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule