Core's dedication impresses newer Blackhawks


Core's dedication impresses newer Blackhawks

Kimmo Timonen has seen plenty of good players and been on several good squads in his long NHL career.

As far as team resolve, however, nothing may beat the one the Blackhawks core has established and practiced the last few seasons.

“I’ve seen a lot of teams, a lot of hockey players, a lot of different systems. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to these guys,” Timonen said on Thursday. “I would say the top eight guys who have been here for six or seven years, these guys are so dedicated for this sport, hockey, just taking care of themselves.

“It surprised me. I’ve never seen that before. It is not a surprise these guys have won it couple times and been in Conference Finals every year.”

[MORE: PHT - Here's what the Lightning will say about Ben Bishop]

That dedication and mental strength, coupled with the talent, have helped the Blackhawks play a lot of hockey the past few seasons. And it has them vying for another trophy as the team heads back to Tampa for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night.

For those who have been in the Blackhawks’ locker room for a while, the team’s ability to handle pressure and thrive in critical situations and on big stages isn’t a big surprise anymore. For those like Timonen, Trevor van Riemsdyk and others who haven’t been here long, it’s eye opening in a good way.

“Just seeing how a 24-hour commitment that everyone puts in, takes care of themselves, they're some of the most competitive, hard-working people I've ever met,” van Riemsdyk said. “You can see that on the ice; no matter what the situation, you feel confident we're going to work our way back, get those chances at the end to have a chance.”

Game 4 was a perfect example of that. The Blackhawks didn’t play very well on Wednesday night, managing just two shots on goal in the game’s first 20 minutes. Yet there they were leading 2-1 as time wound down in regulation, fighting off a Lightning attack that somehow didn’t result in a game-tying goal.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Blackhawks gear here!]

Brad Richards talked earlier this postseason of the self-sufficient Blackhawks locker room. There are enough players from that core, including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, who have been here and done this enough and keep calm. That thought process is evident on the ice, too, from when bounces don’t go the Blackhawks’ way to when they do.

“This team has a lot of experience,” Richards said at the time. “The more you do it, the more you stay with the process, stay with the structure, all this stuff. This team has been doing it for seven years. Your core group doesn't overreact. It's pretty even keel.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said it’s not really about talk with this group.

“These guys don't really say a whole lot,” he said. “I think they let the way they play and the way they carry themselves do a lot of their speaking for them.”

The Blackhawks have built a core that knows how to handle the ups and downs of the postseason and knows how to win. Some of the newer Blackhawks have been pleasantly surprised with just how resilient this group can be.

“I think there's an appreciation for the way, watching these guys from afar. Coming into a new team, you see the way they compete on a game-to-game basis,” Quenneville said. “They see how important winning is around here; probably very noticeable.”


Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

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?