Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Second season off second chance

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Hawk Talk: Second season off second chance

Monday, April 11, 2011Posted: 7:10 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

No matter how much it hurt, the sun was still going to come up Monday.

Turns out, even though it was still overcast in the Chicago area this morning, the new day, and new life, couldnt have been shining any brighter for the Blackhawks. Consider their thank-you note in the mail for the Minnesota Wild, whose coach (Todd Richards) was still fired after their 4-3 win Sunday night over Dallas punched the defending champs ticket back to the post-season. Monday, there was a plane to catch for Vancouver for Wednesdays opener of the best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Obviously, youre praying Minnesotas gonna win. It was tough after our game, said Patrick Kane, who watched the game at home with his parents, who were in town. You feel like you kind of gave it away, and to have second life, maybe its one of those things we can appreciate now.

I was at home, watching TV with my brother, added last Junes Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Toews. I was kinda texting Sharpie, and hes like, Whats wrong with you? How come youre not watching the game? I started watching the second half. I honestly couldnt believe it.

For Duncan Keith, the phrase backing-in doesnt apply.

I definitely feel fortunate they (Dallas) didnt win, but at the same time, looking at the standings we deserve to be in. You go by points, we have more points than Dallas. It was definitely nerve-wracking watching that game, hoping they wouldnt get two more points. Having said that, we want to make the most of this opportunity.

The Blackhawks have been the Canucks demon the last two years, sending them into the off-season. Its Vancouvers pressure-cooked opportunity to exorcise the ghosts of the last two springs. Its the Hawks opportunity to approach this series with a nothing-to-lose, underdog mentality. Theyve been dealing with their own pressures the last three months in the wild West just to get back into the playoffs.

We dont spend every day in Vancouver, but definitely when youre there you get the feeling that they feel this is the year for their team, according to Toews. They had a great regular season. Youve got to think theyre putting a lot of pressure on themselves to win the whole thing. We dont feel like the underdog, but its easy to play that role a little bit go out there and try to make things as tough as we can for their team.

Theyre first in the league, and we just snuck into the playoffs, so obviously theyre the team I thinks got more pressure than us as far as trying to get through and win the Cup, offered Keith.

Chris Kamka from our Comcast SportsNet staff researched that since the NHL went to its current playoff format in 1994, there have been nine 8 over 1 seeded upsets, including one in each of the last two years. Back in 2006, the Edmonton Oilers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose in the seventh game to Carolina, still the last team not to make the playoffs the season after winning the title. The only time the Blackhawks were an 8th seed in that format was in 1997, when they lost, four games to two, to Colorado.

If the Blackhawks are to make it ten, theyll have to do it without at least two key ingredients to their success against the Canucks off-season departures Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. The latter, in particular, was the Nucks Nightmare. Byfuglien collected six goals and nine points in the last eight playoff encounters, and screened and jostled his way onto goalie Roberto Luongos doorstep, leading to many other goals.

Its a new look, its a new team, said head coach Joel Quenneville. But certainly being around the guys who have that experience theres things that can be related to these guys. Getting (them) exposed to the excitement and the emotions of playoff hockey can raise the pace of that 82-game grind and find that one more hurdle I think that can help us across the board, as well.

Another crucial component was Dave Bollands defense on the high-scoring Sedin twins, increasing their frustration factor as those series have gone on. Bolland missed the last 14 regular season games with a concussion, but returned to non-contact practice Saturday. Troy Brouwer, the Vancouver-area native whos capable of providing a net presence, missed the final three games after sustaining an upper-body injury last Tuesday in Montreal. Both traveled with the team to British Columbia Monday, and Quenneville said he expects both to play at some point in the series.

Other things to Mull-et

Kane said the first thing he did after the Wild win was call his barber, get him to open his downtown shop, and get a fresh mullet, his signature styling during last springs Stanley Cup run. Yes, he has the steps carved into the sides, above the ears. Toews claimed Viktor Stalberg was particularly excited about growing a playoff beard. He might be a candidate for strongest facial showing in this group, following the departures of Ladd and John Madden. But Kane had an interesting theory, stating 20-year-old Nick Leddy sports whiskers of a 38-year-old. Kane thought another 20-year-old, Marcus Kruger, might have the toughest time growing one.

The Hawks recalled four players from Rockford to have available for injury insurance in the playoffs: Forward Jeff Taffe, who played in one regular season game for the Hawks, defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who played in 36 games with the big club before Leddys recall after the first of the year, veteran defenseman Garnet Exelby, and goalie Hannu Toivinen.

The Hawks signed defenseman Joe Lavin, a fifth-round draft pick in 2006 (126th overall) to a two-year contract, beginning with the 2011-2012 season. The 21-year-old captained Notre Dame to the Frozen Four this past weekend.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.