Blackhawks

Blackhawks will take all the rest they can get

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Blackhawks will take all the rest they can get

The playoffs, the “second season” as we like to call it, can come with a busy schedule.

There are the games, some of which go into overtime(s). There’s the travel. There’s the physical wear and tear, which only increases with each passing game. It’s a grind, and one that usually doesn’t come with much time to relax.

For the Blackhawks, however, that rare rest is here once again. Thanks to their 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, which gave them a four-game series sweep in the second round, the Blackhawks can kick back, relax and watch Calgary and Anaheim knock each other around a while longer.

[MORE HAWKS: Five things from Blackhawks-Wild Game 4]

“Yeah, we’ll see when the other series close out,” Corey Crawford said. “But I’m sure we’ll get at least a good week, I would say.”

Indeed, since the NHL will wait to begin the Eastern and Western Conference Finals until all second-round series are complete, the Blackhawks should get some ample time to recover. They had six days between when they eliminated the Nashville Predators to when they opened their series vs. the Wild. How much that helped, who knows; it certainly didn’t hurt. Whether it’s the Flames or the Ducks, the Blackhawks will face a much more physical series than they have to this point. So they’ll take the rest.

“Yeah, heal up some bumps and bruises and watch some games, scout the team that we might be playing,” Patrick Sharp said. “It’s a good series going on over there [between Anaheim and Calgary]. Anytime you can take a few days and rest it’s a positive this time of year and hopefully we’ll be ready for Game 1.”

[MORE HAWKS: Blackhawks sweep Wild, move on to Western Conference Final]

That rest will probably benefit the Blackhawks’ defensemen the most. The team’s top four has logged strong minutes already – Duncan Keith is averaging a team-high 30 minutes, 37 seconds per game. And the top defensemen's minutes will likely go up now that Michal Rozsival’s status is official: he fractured his ankle in the second period on Thursday night, will need surgery and is out the rest of this postseason.

No matter who gets installed in the lineup to replace Rozsival – David Rundblad, Kyle Cumiskey and Michael Paliotta are available right now – the new guy may not hit the ground running. Also, keep in mind that Kimmo Timonen has played every game but sparingly, so Timonen has to play more or someone has to take those extra minutes, too.

“That group for the most part has played some significant minutes we’ll see how it all turns out and works out,” Quenneville said. “But a couple of days off here will be nice and we’ll see what happens.”

[SHOP: Get the latest Blackhawks gear here]

The Blackhawks advanced to the Western Conference Finals a lot faster than most expected. They’ll get a break, one that could be critical at this time of year.

“We’ll watch the other series and get ready for whoever we are playing next,” Patrick Kane said. “I think we have a couple days off here, so take advantage of the rest and make sure we are primed and ready for Game 1 in the conference finals.”

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."