Blackhawks

Concussions continue to plague NHL

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Concussions continue to plague NHL

Dave Bolland thinks about it all the time: the concussion hes had, the worries of getting another one and the effects that could come in the future. And with Chris Pronger becoming the latest player sidelined by his own concussion problems, those thoughts are there again.

I think you always have them in the back of your head; you always have it sitting there, said Bolland, a day after the Philadelphia Flyers announced Pronger will miss the rest of this regular- and postseason. You never know going into a hit or anything, you could have another concussion. It does get scary.

Pronger is the latest to be felled by a concussion, and its unknown how it could affect the 37-year-old beyond this season. Will he play again? What does his injury now mean for his quality of life in the future? Its all unknown. And thats where it really gets scary.

Its a tough stretch right now for the league and certain teams with that diagnosis. The tough part about it all is the uncertainty, said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. At the end of the day you hope their quality of life gets back in order quickly, then you make other decisions. Its tough to hear that type of news.

Pronger is the latest to be sidelined by a concussion. His status for this season, unfortunately, is sealed. For others, such as Pittsburghs Sidney Crosby, Philadelphias Claude Giroux and now Carolinas Jeff Skinner, the term out indefinitely is part of a daily routine.

And while several players suffer through their concussion problems, talk continues on how to cut down on them. Sean ODonnell, who was Prongers teammate in Anaheim and Philadelphia, said players have to be proactive in protecting each other.

Everyone wants the big hit and you want your ice time and want your coach to be happy with you, but we have to realize were a fraternity out there. You want to make sure you take care of your guys, he said. You want to hit them hard. If they get hurt fairly, they do. But we need to make sure when someones vulnerable we pull up and our eyes dont light up because we think we can really put a hit on someone.

The term concussion epidemic has been a media story staple lately. But are concussions more prevalent now or are they just finally being recognized more?

I think theyre definitely being diagnosed more, ODonnell said. You used to hear the term stinger or got his bell rung, and if you added those up, they might be the same amount of times you hear concussion now.

Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne, who is still good friends with Pronger, said theres certainly a different outlook about concussions now compared to several years ago.

In the old times, nobody knew how dangerous they were. At that time, if you didnt play right away they thought you werent tough enough in this league, he said. Obviously, were all so concerned about concussions because you never know.

Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers, who was Prongers teammate and sometimes roommate during their St. Louis Blues days, said the concussion situation is three-fold.

First, theres more information and guys are more cognizant of when theyre concussed and reporting it; and doctors are more knowledgeable of whats going on, he said. Second, ever since the rule changes, guys are bigger, stronger, faster and theres not much obstruction for guys to get in and hit guys. The third part is, maybe weve lost a little bit of that respect for each other, and somehow hitting guys in vulnerable positions has been accepted.

The NHL is cracking down on the bad hits that cause these concussions. Brendan Shanahan has doled out the suspensions and players are getting the message. But sometimes even the clean hits cause concussions, so theyll never completely be eradicated.

Pronger is the latest concussion casualty. He wont be the last. Players are just trying to be as aware and safe as they can be.

I hope hes going to be better. This league needs a guy like Pronger, Selanne said. There are too many concussions right now. And the league and every player should be worried about 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."