For the second year in a row, the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t make the playoffs. That’s not an easy thing for a team that’s used to the past dominance of three Stanley Cup wins in six years. This last season was especially tumultuous. The firing of legendary head coach Joel Quenneville in early November was only the beginning.
From there, 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton stepped in and tried to pick up the pieces. It was a long and winding road, where the Blackhawks got worse before they eventually improved and made an unexpected push for a playoff berth in late March and early April.
Unfortunately, they came up a bit short. It’s time to move on now and look towards a more successful 2019-20 campaign. But it’s ok to be a bit nostalgic. Here are 10 fun and defining highlights from this past season.
1. Showtime Has Fun With Fellow Countryman
The Blackhawks’ third game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs was quite the scoring frenzy. Patrick Kane tallied late in the third period to tie the game at 5-5. But Auston Matthews found the back of the net just 22 seconds later to bring his team’s lead to 6-5. The American-born young star cupped his hand to his ear to taunt the United Center crowd. But Kane wasn’t done yet. He scored again with only 29 seconds left on the clock to force overtime. Of course, Kaner had to good-naturedly cup his own hand to his ear as the crowd went wild.
These two goals made Kane the first player in NHL history to tally two game-tying goals in the final 90 seconds of a contest. Kane later went on to score his fifth career hat trick, accomplish a 20-game point streak, and finish the season with career-highs in both assists (66) and points (110).
2. Kahun’s Kinda Happy
Kane wasn’t the only player having fun against the Maple Leafs on Oct. 7. Dominik Kahun signed an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks after three successful seasons playing for Germany’s top league. The undrafted free agent surprised many by earning a spot on the opening night roster ahead of both Dylan Sikura and Victor Ejdsell. Not only that, but he was immediately slotted in on the top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. He wasted no time getting acclimated.
In his third NHL game, Kahun provided the primary assist to both Toews and then DeBrincat for the first two goals of the game. The second tally was the result of a beautiful sequence, and Kahun’s reaction after the goal has become somewhat famous. Go ahead, click on it! Even if you’ve seen it before, I promise it will make you smile.
The 23-year-old forward went on to contribute 13 goals and 24 helpers in 82 games in his first season with the Blackhawks.
3. Slick Start for Strome
Dylan Strome was part of the trade that brought he and Brendan Perlini to Chicago in exchange for Nick Schmaltz, who then headed to the Arizona Coyotes. It was a surprise transaction in the middle of the season. The gist of the deal was that all players involved weren’t living up to expectations, and a change of scenery might do them good. Of the three players, Strome has made this change count the most.
The young center made his Blackhawks’ debut on Nov. 27 against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Blackhawks lost the game 8-3, but things worked out rather well for Strome. He was placed with former OHL Erie Otters’ linemate and good friend DeBrincat, and their chemistry paid off. DeBrincat provided the secondary assist for Strome’s first goal as a Blackhawk. Strome also notched his first helper on Erik Gustafsson’s late third-period goal.
The former Coyote never looked back. After posting only three goals and three assists in 20 games in Arizona, he recorded 17 goals and 34 assists in 58 games with the Blackhawks. He established himself as the second line center behind Toews, and became a staple on the first power-play unit. It’s safe to say the Hawks became a better team because of Strome’s contributions.
4. Murphy’s Second Chance
Connor Murphy became a Blackhawk when he was swapped with three-time Stanley Cup winner Niklas Hjalmarsson for salary cap reasons in June 2017. Hjalmarsson was a fan favorite, and he had the trust and admiration of Quenneville. Poor Murphy was constantly compared to the warrior defenseman, and he struggled to find his fit and identity in his first season with the team.
He then started the 2018-19 season on injured reserve due to a back injury. When Murphy was finally able to return on Dec. 9, he was ready to make the most of his opportunity. You gotta love his statement to the media before the game. “I’d play forward, goalie or D as long as I can get in the game.”
Well, Colliton didn’t make Murphy play forward or goalie. He simply tasked him with playing his defensive game. The blueliner came out charging in his first tilt back against the Montreal Canadiens. He recorded the first shot attempt and the first shot on net of the game within the first minute of play. Murphy finished the night with four shots on goal, three hits, and one takeaway in 16:46 minutes of playing time. He was solid, reliable, and hard to play against.
He continued this trend throughout the remainder of the season. He took the young and less-experienced Carl Dahlstrom under his wing, and the two established themselves as a shutdown pairing to stabilize the back end.
Murphy didn’t light the world on fire. But he took advantage of his second chance to be a consistent defenseman for the Blackhawks. Instead of being that guy who took Hjalmarsson away, he’s now that guy who provided a spark to a struggling blue line.
5. Power Play Picks up Steam
Considering the Blackhawks’ power play was in the basement for so long, we’d be remiss not to highlight when it finally turned around. According to Charlie Roumeliotis of NBC Sports Chicago the Blackhawks were 12-for-105 on the power play in the first 35 games of the season, with a conversion rate of 11.4 percent. They then went 13-for-36 in the next 12 games (34 percent), which was the best in the NHL in that span.
Colliton found a winning combination in a top power play unit of Kane, Toews, DeBrincat, Strome, and defenseman Gustafsson. He leaned on them heavily, oftentimes deploying them for the majority of the two-minute man-advantage.
The Hawks really found their groove when they scored two power play goals for the first time all season against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 27. They then tallied two more PP goals the very next tilt against the Colorado Avalanche. Here’s my favorite tally of the bunch.
6. Toews Taps in Second Hatty
There are numerous things we could highlight in this comeback season for the veteran Blackhawks captain. Toews started the season off strong, with five goals and one assist in his first three games for the best start of his 12-year career. Night after night, he put the team on his back by doing the little things, like winning faceoffs and playing a responsible defensive game. He was a mainstay on both the power play and the penalty kill. And he ended the season with career-highs in goals (35), assists (46), and points (81).
But my favorite part of the season for Toews would have to be his performance in a 8-5 win over the Washington Capitals on Jan. 20. Not only did he notch his second hat trick of the season, but he contributed two helpers as well for a five-point game.
7. Crawford’s Shiny Shutout
We all know Corey Crawford has dealt with his share of adversity over the last few years. He sat out the second half of the 2017-18 season with concussion issues, and spent the summer and the beginning of the following season rehabbing for a return. Then he was sidelined with yet another concussion in Dec. 2018.
But both times he was able to return, and for the most part pick up right where he left off. He made it look easy, but I’m sure it was nothing but. Many questioned whether Crow should retire for the sake of his long-term health.
Which is why it was so satisfying for Crawford to pitch a shutout in Montreal on March 16 just seven games after returning from his most recent concussion. Crawford has a history of playing well in his hometown, but on this night he made 48-of-48 saves. Not too shabby. Here’s an example of what Crow brings to the table.
8. DeBrincat Pots 39th and 40th Goals
There was no sophomore slump for the young man Chicago affectionately calls “The Cat”. The 21-year-old forward scored the first 5-on-5 goal of the season, and the first power play tally of the season. He tallied his fourth career hat trick on Feb. 18 against the Ottawa Senators, coinciding with the first five-point game of his career. Yes, I know it’s only his second season in the league.
DeBrincat is something special, especially when it comes to scoring goals. He tallied his 39th and 40th goals on March 28 against the San Jose Sharks. His 41st goal came two nights later against the LA Kings. This was a new career high for him, second only on the team to Kane’s 44 goals. Can he beat his new record next year?
9. Gusty Keeps on Giving
Gustafsson is a defenseman by trade, but he doesn’t always do what you want him to do defensively. He showed some improvement in this area towards the end of the season, and hopefully he can build on that moving forward.
But Gustafsson makes up for his liabilities on defense with his offensive contributions. He especially proved that this past season. Gusty finished the season with 17 goals, which tied him for third place among NHL defensemen. His 43 assists ranked eighth, and his 60 points put him in sixth place. Not bad for his first full season in the league.
Gustafsson especially helped out by quarterbacking the power play. But he also wasn’t shy with simply shooting the puck and going for that goal, especially late in games. Here’s a prime example.
10. Caggiula Cares
Last but not least, I’d like to highlight the tenacious play of Drake Caggiula. Caggiula was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Brandon Manning on Dec. 30. Quite honestly, everyone was so happy about unloading Manning they didn’t really care about any other upside.
But Caggiula cared. He came in and gave his all, playing hard and gaining a spot on the top line with Toews and Kane. He grit and energy complemented their skill. Caggiula’s determination paid off, earning him a goal and two assists against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 1 for the first three-point game of his career.
Unfortunately, Caggiula sustained a concussion from a questionable boarding hit in the Ducks’ game on Feb. 27, and was out for over a month. But he returned for the last five games of the season, posting four assists and one goal in that span. As a matter of fact, he scored the last Blackhawks goal of the season. His combined 23 points between his time between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago is a career-high for him.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this last look at the Blackhawks 2018-19 season. While there were positives to be taken from this campaign, it still fell short of a playoff berth. The Blackhawks will certainly be looking to improve upon that this upcoming season. Here’s to a productive 2019-20.