Blackhawks, Lightning fight fatigue, pain for chance 'to do something great'


Blackhawks, Lightning fight fatigue, pain for chance 'to do something great'

It’s been a long trek from training camp to this point for the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Each team has played more than 100 games in the trek to the Stanley Cup Final. Each team has gone through at least one seven-game series. Each team has players who are probably fighting some fatigue, some little injuries and perhaps even some big injuries.

But there’s no lamenting the fatigue, no complaining about the pain. When you get to this point, knowing the prize that you could get in a matter of days now, you just deal with it.

“This is, at the most, three games left here to do something great,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It's pretty easy to get motivated and kind of forget about that stuff, just go out there and live in the moment, just think about the next shift, try not to look too far ahead, just take it a period at a time, give everything you have in that period, then see what happens.”

[MORE HAWKS: Lightning's starting goalie still unknown]

You’re never surprised to hear a list of injuries once teams have completed their playoff runs. Most teams remain mum on any pain and suffering while they’re playing – there have been a few exceptions, from Ben Bishop missing Game 4 (and maybe Game 5) with an undisclosed injury to Bryan Bickell missing Games 1 and 2 with vertigo. Others, you suspect are injured – Tyler Johnson has taken few face-offs in recent games but said he’s fine.

But there’s no doubt: if they can grit their teeth and bear it, for a shot at the Stanley Cup, players are willing to fight through the fatigue or aches. It’s that time of the year when the mind has to trick the body into feeling well, even if it isn’t.

“At this point, it’s a mental block,” Andrew Desjardins said. “We’ve had a little bit of time here, too. Everybody knows that situation, where there are obviously things, but you’re looking toward what you’re working for and that’s what you have to do.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said the ups and downs of fighting the grind at this juncture “can be unpredictable.”

“There are definitely some swings, some good days and bad days,” he said. “Some days, you can tell going into the game, you might not have as much energy as you do other nights. Some days in practice we look like we’re not up to that pace. But some days you feel great and your team looks like it feels great and plays well.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Look back at the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup run and who played through what: Andrew Shaw suffered a broken rib against the Detroit Red Wings, then took a puck to the face in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins. Bickell played that Final with a knee injury. Michal Handzus had several injuries, including one to his wrist.

“It’s pretty much the same for everyone,” Marcus Kruger said. “Everyone has bruises and bumps but it’s nothing you think about now. It’s the best-of-three here and every game you’re going to find a way to get through it.”

The Blackhawks and Lightning have gotten to this point thanks mainly to their talent. Mental toughness doesn’t hurt, either. They’ve probably had some weary moments during these playoffs – please see the Blackhawks’ multi-overtime games – and they’ve likely played through pain. It may seem crazy to us bystanders but, for the Cup, they’ll play through just about anything.

“It’s a grind, it’s a challenge. It’s why they say it’s the hardest trophy in the world to win because it’s so demanding and that’s why you have to commend the players, the way they prepare and push each other and one another,” Quenneville said. “These guys find ways.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?


Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: