Bowman promising changes after Blackhawks’ first-round exit

Roman Josi scored twice as the Nashville Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 to complete a sweep of the number one seed in the Western Conference.

CHICAGO — Coach Joel Quenneville will be back next season. Everything else is on the table for the Chicago Blackhawks.

General manager Stan Bowman is promising changes after Chicago was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year. The Blackhawks, who won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, were swept by Nashville this time around, managing just three goals in 13 periods.

"Standing here April 22 is not the way we expected our season to end. And it’s a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves," Bowman said Saturday. "We did not come even close to reaching the standard we have set over the years here. And that’s unacceptable.

"Any successes that we did experience this year are completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season. It’s not close to good enough for anybody. And I think it’s time right now to take a look in the mirror and face facts."

The Blackhawks won the Central Division this season with a 50-23-9 record, finishing with the most points in the Western Conference. When the playoffs started, they were considered one of the favourites to make it to the Stanley Cup.

But it was all Nashville in the post-season, with the Predators skating all over the Blackhawks for most of the short series. It was the first time a No. 1 seed was swept in the first round since the NHL adopted its current playoff format in 1994.

"It was tough to watch and tough to play in," goaltender Corey Crawford said. "It was pretty embarrassing. Like I said, when you think you could go for another great run and to go out in four games, in a series where I don’t even think we were that close, it’s definitely not fun."

For a franchise used to post-season success, it was a staggering blow.

"For a lot of us, this is probably the worst feeling we’ve had after any season," said star winger Patrick Kane, who likely will decide this weekend whether to play in the upcoming world championships.

Captain Jonathan Toews made it sound like a wake-up call for him. The centre turns 29 next Saturday, and it looks as if the grind of long NHL seasons and international play is catching up to him.

He failed to score when the Blackhawks were eliminated by St. Louis in seven games last year. He set career lows with 21 goals and a plus-7 rating this season, and then struggled when matched up against Nashville’s athletic top line in the playoffs. He had a goal and an assist against the Predators.

Toews, who has maintained a strict diet for years, said he plans to adjust his preparation for next season to address the increased emphasis on speed across the league.

"I’ve got to get back to playing more puck possession, a little bit more speed on the rush," he said.

Like Toews, Bowman is heading into one of his most intriguing offseasons since he was promoted to general manager in 2009. While the Blackhawks flopped in the playoffs, they had a successful regular season and have a mix of proven performers and young players who might be much better in the post-season after their experience against the Predators.

Any major moves could be tricky with the salary cap, but it sounds as if Bowman is keeping his options open. He said Quenneville will be back, but he stopped short of guaranteeing pretty much anything else for next season.

"We’re going to conduct a thorough review and see where it takes us," he said.

Backup goaltender Scott Darling and defenceman Johnny Oduya likely will leave in free agency, and defenceman Trevor van Riemsdyk and centre Marcus Kruger could be tempting targets for Las Vegas in the expansion draft. Richard Panik, a restricted free agent who set career highs with 22 goals and 22 assists this season, also is a name to watch this summer.

Brian Campbell, a free agent defenceman with ties to the Chicago area, made it sound as if he will re-sign with the team or retire. Like many of the players, he was still processing everything after the abrupt end to the season.

"I don’t want to go anywhere. We’ll see," said Campbell, who turns 38 next month. "We’ll see where things go. I felt good. My body feels good. But need to take some time to get away from everything and think about it."

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