Blackhawks ramp up practice ahead of Western Conference Final


Blackhawks ramp up practice ahead of Western Conference Final

The typically short Blackhawks practices were longer – and by longer we still mean only about 45-50 minutes, because coach Joel Quenneville has never been a lengthy practice guy.

Still, there were scrimmages and there were battle drills along the boards, things usually reserved for when the Blackhawks are going through a losing streak or Quenneville’s trying to stoke their fire. But now, they’re needed for a team looking to stay sharp.

With the long layoff between their second-round wrap-up and the Western Conference Final, which begin Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks are doing everything they can to do the impossible: simulate a game with practices.

[MORE HAWKS: Full schedule of Blackhawks-Ducks Western Conference Final]

“It’s one of those things you can’t do,” Andrew Shaw said. “A game is totally different, pace is always faster, more physical. [Do a] couple battle drills, some quick scrimmages to get the pace going, keep the legs fresh.”

Nevertheless, you do what you have to do when you have this much time to kill between games. When the Blackhawks finally face the Ducks on Sunday, they will have had nine days between games. The Blackhawks took several days off in this time but the past few days they amped up the practices to prepare for the next round.

“I thought the last two days we had great practices; much better pacing, good energy,” Quenneville said. “There’s a lot of days in between but that’s the way it is. We’re trying to get ourselves where we’re competing at a different level here.”

So you mix up practices and throw in a few drills you normally don’t do. Even though they haven’t had a postseason break like this in the past the Blackhawks know what to do this time of year: stay sharp but don’t get overzealous out there.

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“You want to have a good mix of competitive drills but you also want to be safe out there and make sure you’re not injuring your teammates or yourself,” Patrick Sharp said. “This time of year we’re all professionals, we know what it takes to get ourselves ready to play. Our coach has done a good job of preparing us but at the same time we’re pros and hopefully we’ll be ready to go.”

You can’t do much about the schedule. Between the Eastern Conference’s second round lasting longer than the West’s – the Ducks eliminated the Calgary Flames in five games – and other arena obligations, the Blackhawks and Ducks just have to deal with the extended break. Hockey will resume again for them soon enough. The Blackhawks did their best to stay sharp for when it does.

“We like those type of practices, especially having so many,” Shaw said. “We’re anxious to play and know we’ll come out here and give everything we’ve got for 40 minutes and stay fresh mentally and physically.” 

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: