Blackhawks need balanced emotions in Game 6


Blackhawks need balanced emotions in Game 6

Niklas Hjalmarsson spoke of the opportunity the Blackhawks have on Monday night, of the human nature it is to get excited and dream about clinching a Stanley Cup on home ice.

But there was the other side of that, the reality that the Blackhawks haven’t won a thing yet and, if they get caught in thinking about what could be instead of what currently is, they could come up empty.

“You just have to find a way to calm down and just be excited to play in front of our own crowd,” Hjalmarsson said, “and having the possibility to do something extremely special.”

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The Blackhawks have the chance to win their first Stanley Cup at home since 1938 when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night. It won’t be easy, and they’ll have to fight their own emotions as much as they will the Lightning. But the Blackhawks have shown their experience in these situations, handling the big-game pressure well.

“Whenever we answered questions going into a Game 6 with a chance to win the Stanley Cup, everyone asked, ‘would you rather win on the road or at home?’ For us, there was no difference,” Jonathan Toews said on Sunday. “I think we have a chance to do that tomorrow night. We want to take advantage of it.”

With their Game 5 victory in Tampa on Saturday night, the Blackhawks improved to 42-14 in playoff series Games 4-7 under coach Joel Quenneville. Now, for the third time in the past six seasons, they have a chance to hoist a Cup with a Game 6 victory.

The previous two Cups were won in hostile Philadelphia and Boston environments. To win it at home, however, brings a whole new set of emotions. The Blackhawks won’t be trying to tune out an opposing crowd; they’ll be trying to feed off a home one but also trying to balance their own thoughts about possibly winning at home.

“It's obviously tough not to think about some of those things, but you want to try to put that out of your head as much as you can,” Brent Seabrook said. “We're playing a good team tomorrow. We got to be prepared and ready to play our game, be ready to go right from the start.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks have enough prior situations from which to draw.

“You know, it's an exciting time,” Quenneville said. “I think our guys, they know how to focus and prepare properly. I think over [Sunday], going into [Monday], we’ve got to be excited. We liked how we played last game, knowing we got to be better than that.”

The Lightning have been in this situation before and have flourished under the pressure. They avoided elimination in their first-round Game 6 vs. Detroit before upending the Red Wings at home in Game 7. They walked into Madison Square Garden and shut out the New York Rangers in Games 5 and 7.

Still, the Blackhawks know what’s at stake. They know how to handle pressure. Several players said they want to win the Cup on home ice for the Chicago fans. They’ll have to handle their emotions properly to do that.

“Obviously there's a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement, a lot of things going on around the entire event. I think we're just going to do our best as individuals to focus on our job as players and focus on the game and nothing more,” Toews said. “None of that stuff is really going to help us achieve what we want to achieve. That's where our heads are at right now.”

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

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


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."