Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Outdoor games enjoyable for new and veteran players

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Blackhawks: Outdoor games enjoyable for new and veteran players

MINNEAPOLIS — Trevor van Riemsdyk figured he’d just get some pointers from his brother, James, who’s played in several of these outdoor games.

“I played in one in college at Fenway, but obviously this will be on a much bigger stage,” said van Riemsdyk, who was hurt when the Blackhawks played in the Winter Classic in January 2015. “[James] has been in quite a few. I’m sure I’ll be picking his brain the night before.”

For most of the Blackhawks’ core members, these outdoor games are becoming nearly an annual event — this is their fourth since 2009. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook are among those who have played in three of them thus far. But for some of the newer Blackhawks, this Stadium Series game against the Minnesota Wild is still a reason to bewide-eyed.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Buy a Stadium Series jersey]

Erik Gustafsson isn’t sure yet if he’s playing — he was reinserted into the lineup on Wednesday against New York after being a healthy scratch for two games. But he’ll have some folks watching the game regardless.

“I have some friends coming over from Sweden,” he said. “It’ll be very big. We’ll see if I play but it’ll be a great opportunity to play outside. I saw a picture on Instagram the other day; they were working on the ice. It looked pretty amazing. I just hope it’s going to be good weather.”

Perhaps the euphoria hasn’t completely evaporated for the Blackhawks’ veterans of these games. Both Kane and Niklas Hjalmarsson said they still enjoy these outings.

“It’s not like it’s our 50th time playing in one of these, it’s our fourth time. It’s still pretty unusual playing in a game like this,” Kane said. “It’s exciting. All of us enjoy it and we know that there’s, I wouldn’t say pressure on us to put on a good show, but we’re expected to be here for reason and … it seems like the NHL wants the Blackhawks in these types of events. We try to put on a good show for everyone.”

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Hjalmarsson said, “The first one is always the first one. It doesn’t matter what you do. But it’s still fun and as I said before it’s fun to kind of break the normal pattern in a regular season to mix it up and do something different and just switch it up a little bit. It’s kind of a grind, 82 games. It’s fun to have at least one that stands out a little bit and makes it a little bit more fun and you get the group together and do something different.”

Many of the Blackhawks have been through this outdoor experience a few times now. For the other half of the team, this is a new experience. Regardless of the number of times each player has been here, the outdoor game still has plenty of charm.

“The excitement level is at a different level. It brings you back to being a kid almost, and then you have to know we’re playing for keeps,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “[There are] different emotions and mindset going into the game once you’re out there. At the end of the day, everyone will have a great feeling and hopefully everybody enjoys it.”

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."