Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Keys to Beating the Blackhawks

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Hawk Talk: Keys to Beating the Blackhawks

Thursday, April 15, 2010
4:53 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Few pundits have given the Nashville Predators much of a chance to win their quarterfinal series vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. But the set shapes up to be much closer than people think. Here are 10 ways Nashville can advance past the Hawks:

Been Caught Stealing: Nashville absolutely must take Game 1 at the United Center. A win, be it in rowdy rout fashion or something more in the Predators style of smash-and-grab, accomplishes much beyond taking a 1-0 lead and nullifying Chicagos home-ice advantage. It would be the first road playoff win in 11 tries for the Nashvilleans, but bigger still, it would immediately cast doubt in the minds of the Blackhawks. The Hawks are no patsy and will not shrivel up in the face of adversity, as they proved in the first two rounds of the 2009 postseason. But given the contrast in playing styles, the Preds swooping in and mouth-punching away Game 1 while skating in the rowdiest building in the NHL would offer ample evidence that their style can and will win over Chicagos faster-tempo and puck possession. A decisive enough winsay, like Nashvilles Dec. 4, 4-1 triumph in Chicagocould also trigger panic in Coach Joel Quenneville, whos been known to switch lines or pull goalies at the first whiff of a gentle breeze.
Working for a Living: OK, its a ridiculous clich to spell out working harder as a key to victory. But in the case of the Preds, hard work is essentially all they have going for them. There are no stars of note offensively, the defense is tight but not led by a Duncan Keith-type of ascendant superstar and their goaltender might be called Miikka more often than Pekka this series. Crucial to a Nashville series win will be four lines of energytheres no way for the Sabertooths to outshine the Hawks in terms of sheer skill or playmaking. Outworking any team in the NHL? Now, thats a can-do.

Self-Defense: Nashvilles defense, let by Ryan Suter and Shea Weber on the top pair and second-tier support from Cody Franson and Dan Hamhuis, knows its going to be pummeled. Not physically, but by puck after puck in an endless stream of Chicago shots. The Blackhawks control possession of the biscuit better than any team in the league, and it wouldnt surprise to see Chicago outshoot the Preds by 10 in most of these quarterfinal games. But while the Blackhawks shoot a ton, their offense can stagnatewhen 20 shots have hit the crease but only ones poofed the net, pressure builds, defensemen cheat forward, forwards dig a little too long in the corners, giveaways garble the offense and mismatches in the Chicago zone may commence. If Nashvilles youngish corps can play standup D with patience, it will yield odd-man rushes and provide demoralizing chances and tallies.

Immovable Object Meets Unstoppable Force: While by no means the key to the series, it will be interesting to see what gives when the Blackhawks are on the power play. Chicagos man-advantage has been looking awfully five-on-fivish, steadily fading to black since the Olympics, dwindling to an NHL 16th-best .177 by seasons end. On the Nashville side, the Preds stop a mere .771 with their penalty kill, which finished poorest among playoff clubs and 28th overall in the league. Its a battle of bad to worse, and if the Preds pounce on Chicagos Brian Campbell-less unit to get off their PK schneid, its the sort of little thing that could help turn a tight series. The early returnsnamely Quennevilles insistence on keeping Dustin Byfuglien at the point rather than double-parked in front of the netmay indicate advantage: Predators.

Sound the Horn: Yes, the Predators have five forwards who topped 15 goals this season, but as the only 30-goal scorer on the team, Patric Hornqvist will be facing some enormous pressure to put the puck in the net. Its almost unfair to place so much offensive dependence on a 23-year-old, as the Hawks run out Patrick Kane after Jonathan Toews after Marian Hossa, ad infinitum, but this is the playoffs, and only the big boys advance. Hornqvist will also have to step up his production vs. Chicago: In eight career games vs. the Blackhawks, the right wing has just one goal and is a minus-two.

Pick a Pekka: Its a battle of inexperienced Finnish postseason goalies in this series, and arguments can be made the advantage goes to the bigger (65!), more experienced Pekka Rinne. Both Rinne and Chicagos Antti Niemi have had very strong stretch runs, but Rinne has authored four shutouts since the Olympics. More troublesome for Chicago is that Rinnes size makes screening him a true challenge. A lack of offensive rebounding30 one-and-dones a nightwill not get the job done against a 65 praying mantis in a goalie mask. Look for the Blackhawks to crash the cage hardand again, when they do, Rinne saves could lead to mismatches in the Chicago zone.
Muting the Volume: Despite its youth, Nashville has proven it can beat the Blackhawks at the United Center, and decisively. Contrary to popular myth, strong visitors play after first puck drop can mute the Redshirt crazies and mellow down the most rambunctious building in the league.

Trapper Keeper: Nashville is a trap team, and if theres been a style of play that has given Chicago any sort of consistent trouble, its that kind of puckhawking. The argument can be made that the Hometown Heroes beat themselves more often than any opponents style stymies them, but it cant be denied that trapping teams give the Blackhawks bunchy underwear. If Nashville controls neutral zone play, its upset city.

Keep it Clean: The Preds are a physical team, yet led the league with just 8.7 penalty minutes per game. If that sort of controlled aggression can be maintained under the bright lights of the postseason, it will give Nashville another key advantage over a Chicago team that isnt afraid to play physical pucksbut doesnt always do so smartly.

Make-Believe: The season series was not as one-sided as a 4-2 Blackhawks advantage would have you believe. Chicago outscored Nashville just 15-12 in the six games, and if the first two contests of the season are tossed outa big if, but only in the last four did the Sabertooths accurately imitate their current style of roughneckingthen the advantage shifts down to the southern boys, 11-10. The two teams split the final four games. An upset in this quarterfinals series is not a pipe dream where fans will be forced to believe in miracles to process what theyre seeingwhat makes this a terrifying opening draw for Chicago is that the difference between the two clubs is razor-thin.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

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."