Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Let the Buildup Begin

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Hawk Talk: Let the Buildup Begin

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
5:51 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

One team, the Chicago Blackhawks, has its sights set on a Stanley Cup. Meanwhile the Vancouver Canucks have been pointing all season long toward upending Chicago in a postseason rematch.

Despite these differing goals, the second straight semifinals matchup between the Blackhawks and Canucksespecially when taking into account the regular-season hijinks between the teamsshapes up to be a high-flying, hard-hitting affair. Whichever club advances to the Western finals could well end up drained and dead on their skates.

And yet players on both sides are chomping at the bit for Hawks-Nucks, Mach II.

These are the rivalries you love, Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. Theres not a lot of love lost between us.

It was a lot of fun last year, said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, without a single word spoken through gritted teeth. Whats that they say about familiarity, it breeds contempt? Thats about it.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews even allowed himself some rare levity when speculating about the Chicago-Vancouver rematch.

Were going to have a lot of fun with the series, Toews said. "We can put our experience last year to good use.

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa broke into a smile when talking about the rivalry between the two teams, even though hes yet to participate in a Hawks-Nucks playoff battle.

I watched the other playoff games last year when I wasnt playing for the Detroit Red Wings, Boss Hoss said. I could see how tough it was. It was that way in this regular season, too.

Last years playoff battle, won by the Blackhawks in six games after dropping two of the first three, certainly had interesting moments, including gilded Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo tearing up in the Vancouver locker room after the Blackhawks romp to clinch the series in Game 6. But the 2009-10 regular season is whats truly upped the ante.

Among a flurry of interesting statistics and trends, two violent episodes from this seasons Chicago-Vancouver matchups leap out.

The first and most infamous was Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchells crushing check on Toews after being sprung from the penalty box in the third period of two teams first tilt, at the United Center on Oct. 21. Mitchell decked the unaware Captain flat, leaving Toews dazed and barely able to skate back to the Chicago bench. The Blackhawks would lose the game late, and the Big Red Cheese would end up missing six games with a concussion due to Mitchells hit. Ironically, just three months later Mitchell himself suffered a violent concussion in a game vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins and has been sidelined since.

The other episode, a more sustained and humorous bit of controversy, is the Andrew Ladd-Ryan Kesler feud. Kesler had apparently been spoiling for a fight with Ladd since receiving a supposed cheap shot from the Chicago winger in the 2009 playoffs. But when the two squared off at the GM Place on Jan. 23, Ladd decked Kesler with a quick left cross, breaking his nose. Curiously, Kesler chose to advance the controversy by calling Ladd a coward after the game. Theories abounded that Kesler was more injured by Ladds tauntingquickly pointing to the welts he delivered to the centers facethan by the punch itself. In Marchs season series finale at the United Center, Ladd took a run at Kesler right away, but on advice of teammate counsel, Kesler demurred.

You media are probably going to have a lot to ask Kesler and Ladder this year, right? Toews asked, breaking into his version of a guffaw, a wry smile.

Kesler himself is trying to laugh at the controversy. You had to bring that one up, did you? he asked the Vancouver Sun on Monday. Im not too worried about Ladd. Im more worried about winning the series and trying to get even that way Its a team game, and were focused on the main goal here. There are no selfish guys on this team who are going to try to close up an individual battle and make the team suffer.

Kesler doesnt only claim no hard feelings, but over the past couple of months since last meeting the Blackhawks has developed a grudging admiration for Ladd. Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Ladd is a guy who plays hard, he told the Sun. I dont think there is any rivalry there. Whats done is done. We fought and thats the end of it.

Luongos heartfelt reaction to, in his words, letting my team down in a 7-5 Chicago romp in Game 6 last year is another famous moment in the Vancouver-Chicago rivalry. But the Olympic goal-winning netminder fueled the flames a bit back in February, after his Canadian club knocked off the U.S. in the gold medal game. In the handshake line, Luongo reminded Patrick Kane that hed be looking forward to exacting revenge in the playoffs.

Kanes first career hat trick came in that Game 6 clincher vs. Luongo, and the ace has had his share of troubles over the years vs. the Blackhawks.

Contrary to common conception, Luongo has a terrific track record against Chicago in the regular season. Over the past four years, the netminder is 10-5-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage against the Hawks. Of course, some persistent concerns may be in the goalies mind as he skates into the crease for Game 1 at the United Center: His poor performance in last years postseason (23 goals in six games), and getting shelled for five goals on 14 shots in the first period of the teams most recent meeting, a 6-3 Chicago win on March 5.

Even worse for the gold-medal winner is that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has shifted his lineup in anticipation of the highly-skilled Canucks. Cool Hand Q has bumped the burly Dustin Byfuglien back to forward from the blue line, where he is expected to play the same pesky, physical role in front of Luongos blue ice he did, to raves, a season ago.

For a team not necessarily known for physical play, the Blackhawks did a marvelous job pestering Luongo last season.

I thought the Chicago series last year was the most Ive ever seen for guys going to the net and falling on the goalie, Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa told The Province.
I know its part of the Blackhawks game plan for sure, but Ive got to deal with it, Luongo added. I dont have a problem with that. Its a challenge for me, and I look forward to challenges like that.

And it wont just be Big Buff, who took in Tuesdays team practice not as a point on the power play but at long last back in front of goal, tangling Luongos long locks in the semis. Count on Adam Burish, Ladd, Tomas Kopecky, Bryan Bickell and Troy Brouwer all to buzz the goalie with drive-bys.

Heading into this titanic tilt, the bluster from both dressing rooms will be in full force. As Quenneville said, Im sure it wont take long to rekindle the animosity.

And once animosity has been raised to threatening levels, the reporting of every last deal stemming from the soap opera that is Blackhawks-Canucks will begin.

As soon as someone breaks their fingernail, it becomes a story, noted Toews, once again as jocular as youll find him. The players even talk to each other about that.

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

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night:
 
1. Nick Schmaltz returns but sizzle doesn’t.

You didn’t expect the fireworks of the season opener but you figured Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane would connect pretty quickly again. The speed was certainly there. The connections on passes were not. It wasn’t just that second line, though: it was another night on which the Blackhawks’ offense was sluggish. 
 
2. Tripping along.

I joked that tripping is the new slashing. Maybe that’s not the case league-wide but it was for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks took five tripping penalties overall, including three in the first period. It was a clear sign that the Blackhawks were trying to play catch-up all night, and they didn’t fare well at it.
 
3. Power play gets something but…

It took until late in the third period (when the Blackhawks’ offense seems to get going lately). The Blackhawks got two late power-play goals, a reminder of what they can do when they battle for the puck and show some spark.

“Our sense of urgency in the puck area, be it 5-on-5 or on the power play, that’s the differential of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making plays off it is one of our strengths,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that very often and we haven’t won many battles.”
 
4. Starting slow.

Why these are happening is a mystery, and they’ve been most evident in the Blackhawks’ last three games, which have all come against division opponents. Too much relying on Corey Crawford again and not much in terms of shots, be it quality or quantity through the first two periods. The Blackhawks were outshot 17-8 through the first 40 minutes on Wednesday. While they created little they gave up way too much.
 
5. Patrick Sharp OK?

Sharp was injured late on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks-Blues game got chippy in the final five-plus minutes. Quenneville thought Sharp was fine but he wasn’t positive at the time of his postgame press conference.

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ first tripping came barely a minute into the game. Then came another one. And another. And another. And another. Despite welcoming one of their fastest players back into the lineup, the Blackhawks were overall flat-footed and playing catch-up all night, be it on the ice or on the scoreboard, to the St. Louis Blues.

Nick Schmaltz returned but the effect on the second line and the Blackhawks overall wasn’t immediate. Instead the Blackhawks looked sluggish. Their offensive opportunities were few – a one and done here and there but no sustained zone time or pressure on Blues goaltender Jake Allen – their passing was off and they were on the defensive all night.

And then there were the tripping penalties. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill held up through it, nullifying all five Blues power-play opportunities. But the Blues found other ways to inflict their damage.

“They played well and we were brutal,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was a bad start, a bad middle and even [though] it was a little excited at the end it wasn’t very good. That’s as close to brutal as you can get.”

The Blackhawks’ last three games have common themes: they’re outshot for a good part of the game, they’re giving up a good amount of quality shots and then the urgency hits them midway through the third period. For the third consecutive contest the Blackhawks scored two goals late and in two of those three games it wasn’t nearly enough.

“Obviously it wasn’t good enough for two periods. If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third,” Patrick Kane said. “At least we know we can do it. Just gotta do it before our backs are against the wall.”

Why it’s taking the Blackhawks so long to get going, however, is the question. Obviously the Blackhawks’ late third-period pushes show how capable they are of producing when necessary. Said Alex DeBrincat, who assisted on Ryan Hartman’s goal late in regulation, “If we’re would’ve been crashing the net like that all game it may have been a different story.”

But they didn’t. The Blackhawks welcomed back a teammate that’s injected speed into their lineup but the team was once again stumbling out of the gate.

“We’re supposed to be out there, giving our all every minute we’re out there and every shift, go out there and take it a shift at a time and give it all you got every shift,” Hartman said. “We have four lines that can roll so there’s no excuse for not going out there and putting all your energy out there for a shift and getting ready for the next one.”