Blackhawks miss playoffs, absence of top players among reasons

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The Chicago Blackhawks failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in four seasons.

The Blackhawks (22-24-6) were eliminated from contention when they lost 5-2 at the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. They can finish no higher than fifth in the eight-team Discover Central Division. The top four teams qualify for the playoffs.

Last season, the Blackhawks defeated the Edmonton Oilers in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers before a five-game loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round.

Here’s a look at what happened in the 2020-21 season for the Blackhawks, and why things could be better next season:

The Skinny

Potential unrestricted free agents: Vinnie Hinostroza, F; Zack Smith, F

Potential restricted free agents: Adam Gaudette, F; Brandon Hagel, F; David Kampf, F; Alex Nylander, F; Pius Suter, F; Nikita Zadorov, D

Potential 2021 Draft picks: 8

What went wrong

Missing top players: Jonathan Toews did not play this season because of a medical issue and the Blackhawks hope their captain will be back next season. Defenseman Brent Seabrook did not play this season and announced the end of his playing career because of a hip injury March 5. Forward Alex Nylander missed the season after having surgery Dec. 21 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Forward Andrew Shaw, who scored four points (two goals, two assists) in 14 games, announced April 26 he was ending his career because of concussions.

Giving up too much: The Blackhawks have allowed an average of 33.3 shots per game this season, second-most in the NHL behind the Buffalo Sabres (33.7). That’s better than last season, when they allowed an NHL-high 35.1 shots per game, but it still put too much pressure on their goalies.

So-so special teams: Chicago’s penalty kill has struggled (76.4 percent, 27th). The power play started well, going 17-for-47 (36.2 percent) in the first 15 games of the season, and for the season it’s 10th at 22.4 percent. But it lost steam as the season progressed and is 5-for-34 (14.7 percent) in the past 10 games.

Reasons for optimism

Patrick Kane still is Patrick Kane: The 32-year-old leads the Blackhawks and is seventh in the NHL with 62 points (15 goals, 47 assists) in 52 games. Kane has played with a host of different linemates, but it rarely affects his production. That said, Kane and Alex DeBrincat have formed great chemistry, be it on a line or on the power play, so expect those two to play a lot together again next season.

A healthy Kirby Dach: The forward didn’t make his 2020-21 debut until March 27 because of a fractured right wrist sustained Dec. 23, during preparation for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Dach, who has scored 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 18 games, has dealt with soreness in the wrist and said he thought about it while playing most of this season. The 20-year-old needs to be healthy for a full season to show what he can really do.

Solid start for rookies: Among NHL rookies, forward Pius Suter is tied for seventh with 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists) in 51 games and forward Brandon Hagel is tied for ninth with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 48 games. Goalie Kevin Lankinen has struggled down the stretch but was strong at the start, and is 16-14-5 with a 3.04 goals-against average, .908 save percentage and two shutouts in 36 games. They all have gained experience that should benefit the Blackhawks next season.

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