Blackhawks

Duncan Keith’s return should boost Blackhawks

Duncan Keith’s return should boost Blackhawks

ST. LOUIS – Duncan Keith watched as the Blackhawks almost came away with the road victory without him.
 
The Blackhawks defenseman was wrapping up his six-game suspension, which included that first postseason game against the St. Louis Blues. Despite missing Keith’s minutes, Keith’s work on the power play and penalty kill, the Blackhawks still got to overtime before losing 1-0.
 
“You want to be out there helping the guys to try and win the hockey game. That in itself is frustrating especially it being as big a game as it was,” Keith said. “But I’m excited to get back and play again and try to do everything I can to help get a win.”
 
The Blackhawks were close to getting that first road playoff victory on Wednesday night. Heading into Friday they’re looking for a split, something they weren’t able to get against the Blues two postseasons ago. Getting Keith back certainly helps that possibility.
 
“It’s huge. Not much has to be said there,” Jonathan Toews said. “We know what Duncs means to our team: power play, penalty kill, all situations we could’ve used him in [Wednesday night]. But he’ll make all those parts of our game better the next one. We can all step it up and feed off that energy he’ll bring.”
 
Coach Joel Quenneville said he will probably pair Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson together again. Hjalmarsson has played with Trevor van Riemsdyk during Keith’s suspension. The Blackhawks’ defense was strong without Keith in Game 1, holding the Blues to just 18 shots through regulation and nine-plus minutes of overtime. Young guys such as van Riemsdyk and Erik Gustafsson gained more minutes and/or more responsibilities.
 
But at this time of year the experience is critical, so the onus was still on veterans Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook. 
 
“Playing 30 minutes, speaking for myself, I’ve done it a lot of times in the playoffs and in big games. I like playing those kinds of minutes and being counted on. But having Duncan back to alleviate that pressure in some areas, whether it’s penalty killing or power play or even strength, he’s such a big part of our team,” Seabrook said. “Getting him back, the way he’s able to eat minutes and still be productive, is big.”
 
Keith knows the Blues will try to throw him off his game. The Blues went with their usual method of attack in Game 1 – hit the Blackhawks as often as possible, and they were credited with 41 hits. With Keith, they may even try to get him to lose his cool. Quenneville said he’s talked with Keith about keeping his composure – “the leash is a little tighter than it’s been. He has to be smarter in that area,” Quenneville said. And Keith knows he can’t let the opposition push his buttons.
 
“Guys have taken runs at me. You deal with it. [Patrick Kane] deals with it very well. Not the biggest guy, but try to find a way to get through that, do what you have to do and play your game. Don’t focus on those type of things. Focus is on the game, competing,” Keith said. “When it comes to the suspension, that’s something I can be in control of and need to do and be smart about that.”
 
The Blackhawks had everything but the finish on Wednesday night. Keith will be back on Friday, playing big minutes, helping on the power play and on the penalty kill. Keith had the Blackhawks’ first game-winning goal of the 2015 Cup run. He had the final game-winning goal, too. Could Keith’s return be the difference in Game 2? The Blackhawks hope it will be.
 
“You want to try to get one on the road. If we would’ve won [Wednesday] we would’ve tried to get two but now we have to look to get the split. Duncs getting back in the lineup and the things we did well we can build off and should give us energy with him returning,” Quenneville said. “Let’s look to get even.”
 
BRIEFLY

  • Andrew Ladd’s wife, Brandy, gave birth to their third child, a boy named Walker Gordon. Quenneville said Ladd is expected to be in the lineup for Game 2 on Friday night.
     
  • The Blackhawks agreed to terms on a three-year contract with defenseman Carl Dahlstrom. The deal for Dahlstrom, who has played in three games with the Rockford IceHogs this season, begins at the start of the 2016-17 season.

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."