Blackhawks

Blackhawks' depth being tested in playoffs

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Blackhawks' depth being tested in playoffs

Thursday, April 14, 2011Posted: 8:25 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia Depth. The Chicago Blackhawks used to have plenty of it. This year, what little theyve got has been tested time after time.

And now its getting tested again.

With Game 2 coming tomorrow against the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks could be down another forward. Tomas Kopecky suffered an undisclosed injury in the first period on Wednesday night and is doubtful to play tomorrow. Dave Bolland is out with his concussion.

I think as weve gone along you always get tested. You take some looks at other guys. Thats what its all about, coach Joel Quenneville said. Its someone stepping up and taking advantage of it to help the team in a positive way.

No, injuries are nothing new to any hockey team. The Blackhawks have gotten through theirs well at times despite missing Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa for most of December, Chicago was able to play above .500 hockey. But finding players to step up in key roles throughout hasnt always been easy.

Contrast their situation with that of the Canucks, who enjoyed the depth this season that the Blackhawks used to have. Vancouver had quite a few injuries among their defense corps this season. But they tapped into their farm system, which yielded strong results. Henrik Sedin called the transition seamless, as the Canucks just kept rolling through their injury issues.

Guys stepped up and played a lot of minutes. Now theyre in the press box, Sedin said. On a lot of other teams they would be playing.

This season, the Blackhawks have relied heavily on their top players to get them through injury woes. Thats fine for a while, but eventually they start to wear down. Now youve got the Vancouver Canucks recognizing that as they brought a big, physical presence in Game 1.

Over the course of a series, it wears them down, Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. We have four lines and six D rolling over right now. We have fresh legs throwing bodies out there.

And the Blackhawks are taking more abuse than theyre giving. As Quenneville said, the Hawks physical game was below average; the scoresheet showed the Canucks outhitting them 47-21 in Game 1. A lot of those hits seemed to come early when the Canucks were determined to make their presence felt. Literally.

There are no excuses on that part, defenseman Brian Campbell said on possible depth issues. You roll the next person in and go. Nobodys going to feel sorry for us and thats not going to win us a playoff series. Good teams learn how to get past that to win.

True, but the responsibilities have to be spread throughout more. The Blackhawks, down Bolland for all of Game 1 and Kopecky through most of it, leaned heavily on their best players. Patrick Kane played nearly 24 minutes, Jonathan Toews logged more than 23 and a not-100-percent Patrick Sharp played nearly 21. The Blackhawks need more from others and they havent gotten it at a sustained rate like they did last season.

The Blackhawks did their best to patch lineups through depth problems this season. A tight salary cap limiting their Rockford call-ups didnt help.

Injuries happen to every team, every season. The Canucks depth kept their top players from getting worn out. The Hawks may not be as fortunate.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

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."