Blackhawks

Despite lengthy rest, Blackhawks remain focused on Ducks

toewskaneblackhawksfocusedslide.png

Despite lengthy rest, Blackhawks remain focused on Ducks

The Blackhawks have enjoyed a rare postseason privilege this week: off days.

While the Eastern Conference second-round series continue on Tuesday, the Blackhawks have relaxed, practiced a time or two, and relaxed some more. As far as getting completely away from hockey, however, the Blackhawks aren’t doing that.

“You don’t want to let your mind wander too much,” Jonathan Toews said. “When you have your sights set on your next opponent and you know when the date is, it’s great to be able to snap back into it and knowing, the couple days leading up to it you need to be where you would be if it was a game day.

[MORE HAWKS: Ducks quickly shift their attention to Blackhawks]

The Blackhawks don’t know the dates yet but they do know their opponent. And whether practicing or taking an off day, their minds are completely focused on the Anaheim Ducks right now.

The extended time off presents a challenge: get rest but stay sharp. Coach Joel Quenneville has never been big on lengthy practices; a “long” practice runs about 45 minutes. But when the Blackhawks do practice they’re not coasting out there.

“Sometimes you’ve got to make sure you balance it when it gets a little longer… where it’s almost, let’s try something different in practice, simulate a game situation,” Quenneville said. “Or we get the feel of the puck, feel of the play, that first game type of intensity that’s going to be there.”

[NBC SHOP: Get the latest Blackhawks gear here]

Whenever a team is off for a while, there’s the inevitable question: will players be rusty when they do return? The Blackhawks had six days off between finishing their first-round series against the Nashville Predators to starting their second-round session vs. the Minnesota Wild. That layoff didn’t hurt them; the Blackhawks scored three goals in the first period of Game 1. Given the gravity of the postseason, the Blackhawks should be ready when this series starts, too.

“You kind of get in that routine of every-other-day games and getting that momentum and playing, getting into the games. It’s kinda tough [with time off], but it’s also nice to have the rest,” Bryan Bickell said. “These last practices have been a good pace and it gets us ready for the game.”

The Blackhawks have enjoyed their days off, from Bickell’s day of fishing to players spending time with family and friends. But at this time of year, the game and the next opponent is never too far in the back of their minds.

“It’s nice to be here, sleep in your own bed and not a hotel, things like that,” Duncan Keith said. “[But] you’re always focused on hockey no matter what, watching the games and thinking about the next series.”

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

2-21_senators_matchup_nhl_chi_blank.jpg
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?