One Goal Away from History, Is the Goalie Competition Over? Goal of the Year Candidate, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

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One Goal Away from History, Is the Goalie Competition Over? Goal of the Year Candidate, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks are looking more and more like a legitimate playoff team. With a “boring” 2-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets last night, we saw something that the team has lacked so far this season: the ability to close a game.

Unlike their track meet contest on Tuesday night, when they failed to hold a lead three times before winning in the shootout, Thursday night was a back and forth battle of attrition that saw just one goal necessary for the win. The Blackhawks are learning lessons this season, and more often than not, the lessons are not coming the hard way. This budding momentum has become infectious for the team and us, the fans.

•   One of the biggest catalysts to the Blackhawks success this season has been Patrick Kane. With 31 points in 21 games and eight points in his last three games (including the game-winning goal last night), Kane has been the Team MVP this season and deserves to be right in the middle of the discussion for League MVP.

•   Kane’s goal last night was goal number 399 for his career, one away from joining the 400-goal club. Only 99 players in NHL history have scored 400 or more goals, and three have scored 400 or more with the Chicago Blackhawks. Kane would become the 100th player to reach the 400-goal mark in his career and would join Bobby Hull (604), Stan Mikita (541), and Steve Larmer (406) in the Blackhawks franchise history books. When he reaches the 400-goal mark, Kane will become the eighth active NHL player to hit 400 goals.

•   Kane is also approaching his 1,000th career NHL game. Barring injury (knock on all the wood in sight), Kane will play his 1,000th game on March 9 against the Dallas Stars in Dallas. It’s a shame that Kane will not be able to celebrate his 1,000th game in front of the United Center fans, let alone just to do it in an empty United Center would be fine, but he will get some recognition from the limited fans in Dallas. Kane will become the seventh Blackhawks player in franchise history to play 1,000 games with the franchise and will be the 352nd player in league history to reach 1,000 games.

•   The other catalyst to the Blackhawks’ recent success has been goaltending. Given what we saw in the first four games of the season, I definitely didn’t expect goaltending to be the reason the Blackhawks are having success this season. But since January 22nd, the team is leading the NHL in team save percentage (.931) while ranking third in high-danger save percentage (.858), according to Natural Stat Trick.

•   Much of that success in net can be attributed to Kevin Lankinen, who has taken hold of the starter role for the Blackhawks as a rookie. Lankinen is 8-3-3 on the year with a .921 save percentage and a 2.59 GAA. Lankinen ranks in the top ten of NHL goalies to play at least 500 minutes this season in save percentage, shots against, goals saved above average, high-danger shots against, and high-danger save percentage.

•   Not to be out-shined by Lankinen, Malcolm Subban has bounced back from his first start with the Chicago Blackhawks back on opening night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. After allowing five goals on opening night, Subban has allowed just six goals over his last four starts, helped by his second career shutout in last night’s win.

•   Heading into the season, the goalie competition was a three-horse race, with Subban and Collin Delia penciled in as interchangeable favorites for the starter and backup roles (with Lankinen likely playing a spot starter role along the way). That all changed with Lankinen’s emergence and Subban’s bounce back. Unfortunately for Delia, he hasn’t been afforded a redemption start since his first two appearances of the season back in the second and third games of the year. With Lankinen and Subban playing so well, I can’t blame head coach Jeremy Colliton for rolling with the known commodities in net. I’d like to see Delia get a chance to play this weekend with games on back-to-back nights against the Detroit Red Wings, who are in last-place in the Central Division.

•   The Blackhawks have the best ten-game stretch going right now in the league, tied with the Edmonton Oilers.

•   That’s not something I would have thought I would see this season.

•   If the Blackhawks do end up in the postseason, I think we are looking at Jeremy Colliton as a real Jack Adams Award candidate as coach of the year in the NHL. Given the hand he was dealt heading into this season, to have the young players developing faster than expected and helping accelerate the rebuild effort, paired with the buy-in from the team and the perceived change in culture in the organization, Colliton has shown he can coach in the league.

•   Some things you can’t coach. Like T.J. Oshie scoring what could likely end up as the goal of the year, or even the goal of the last five years:

•   Yeah…I thought that looked familiar:

•   Insane.

•   Also insane, if you missed it from yesterday, was this incredible hockey dunk:

•   Hockey + Basketball + Outdoor Rink = viral video success. I can’t imagine this was tried too many times, either. Falling from that high, that fast, onto ice? *shudder*

Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.