Blackhawks

Blackhawks confident in one-two punch of Crawford, Darling

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Blackhawks confident in one-two punch of Crawford, Darling

There were plenty of changes for the Blackhawks this offseason, mainly among the forward and defenseman groups. Uncertainty usually accompanies change, and the Blackhawks will work through that as they have in the past.

But when it comes to the Blackhawks’ goaltending, coach Joel Quenneville is pretty sure of what he’s got.

“There was some uncertainty there in the past,” he said. “And now we’re probably as comfortable as we’ve been with our goaltenders, one-two, starting the season.”

Corey Crawford and Scott Darling made a great tandem down the stretch and both are looking to start the 2015-16 season strong. For Crawford, it’s building off a second Stanley Cup and second William Jennings Trophy — he shared last season’s honor with Carey Price and shared the 2012-13 award with former teammate Ray Emery. For Darling, it’s prepping for a sophomore season after an impressive 2014-15.

“Well, I think both guys proved they can play, and both played meaningful games for us down the stretch,” Quenneville said. “Darls came a long way over the course of a season; it looks like he’s taking off from that note and wants to get better. I think there’s healthy competition and good support through each other as well.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Teravainen likely to start season at wing]

Crawford and Darling have formed a good bond on and off the ice. The competition, however, remains.

“We push each other, we work together to make each other better,” Crawford said. “We talk about other teams’ players, our technique, pretty much anything. It’s good to have that communication between us and with Jimmy (Waite, Blackhawks goaltending coach), too. We have to be a team back there and work on ways to — not necessarily make it easier, but find ways where it’s more efficient to stop the puck. We’re both excited, and we both feel pushing each other makes us that much better, too.”

Darling said Crawford is another “coach” for him.

“He’s a little easier on me than Jimmy,” Darling said. “But just learning from him and watching how he prepares and plays game in and game out has been helpful for my career. There’s no better mentor to have.”

It was a short summer for all of the returning Blackhawks, including the goaltenders. For Crawford, this is his second quick offseason turnaround. But he said he budgeted his off time the right way.

“The training was there, no question; I didn’t miss any of that. I took just enough time (off), mentally and physically, and then it was back to work. You don’t want to miss too much time because it gets harder and harder to start back up as the years go on,” Crawford said with a smile. “Hockey-wise in the summer, it’s the same thing. That nice mental break helps when you’re coming into camp fresh. Your mind’s fresh and you’re hungry to be on the ice and start playing again.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Panarin more at ease after preseason debut]

Darling had enough trial-by-fire moments last season that nothing should surprise him entering this one. If there was any question of Darling’s ability to handle the pressure, it was answered in that first-round series against the Nashville Predators.

“I had a lot of growing experiences last season, whether it was getting multiple starts in a row or not playing for a long time and then having to go in. And the playoffs were obviously huge for me,” Darling said. “That gives me confidence going forward, to know I can do it. I’ve done it before, so I just have to build off that.”

Speaking of confidence, considering how much Quenneville has in Crawford and Darling, don’t be surprised if the starts are more divided between the two.

“It’s not etched in stone how much or who’s going to play, but I think we expect them both to be regularly playing and keep them both fresh as possible as well,” Quenneville said. “We like our goaltending situation.”

The Blackhawks had their share of summer changes. Goaltending wasn’t one of them, and the Blackhawks are assured in that familiarity.

“I just think whoever’s playing gives us the confidence we need in our defensive game. If something goes wrong, they’ll do everything they can to stop the puck,” Marcus Kruger said. “They just give us that confidence, and we know they’ll give us a good chance to win every night. That’s huge to have two goalies like that.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."