Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Work ahead for Hawks

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Hawk Talk: Work ahead for Hawks

Monday, May 24, 20103:37 PM
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.comAs seen in two previous playoff wins over the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks, the Chicago Blackhawks have practiced long-term vision on the 2010 playoffs.

Such thinking allowed for smiles and congratulations at the end of the clubs Western Conference finals sweep over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, but the realization ran rampant that the teams true goal is still four wins away.

The dressing room postgame Sunday was all hustle and bustle, but that was mainly due to a torrent of media let into the room to record the Hometown Heroes every reaction and memory. The players themselves were decidedly muted and reflective, particularly veterans like Patrick Sharp and John Madden, who were even more soft-spoken than usual.

We understand that theres been a lot of hype over this team here in Chicago, said Madden, a veteran of two Stanley Cup wins with the New Jersey Devils. Weve still got to focus. Whatever happens in the East, we go back to work in preparation.

Patrick Kane, speaking freely with the media for an extended stretch, fielded questions that ranged everywhere from whether the tension was palpable on ice (one third-period shot I let loose on so hard I thought I might kill somebody) to whether hell play his own NHL 10 video game to prep for the Philadelphia Flyers or Montreal Canadiens (Ive been playing Mario Kart like crazy, thats all the Blackhawks play). He also pulled back the curtain on how challenging the playoff grind can be, and how much relief a few days off could provide.

Im just going to relax, he said. Im pretty tired right now. Even the celebration takes something out of you. Its all emotionally draining.

The celebration -- too much of it -- can be a concern. Kane, Brian Campbell and other Blackhawks have admitted that last years team was a little surprised to play deep into the playoffs and were happy with earlier-stage success. But nine-time Stanley Cup winner and winningest coach in NHL history, Scotty Bowman, sees two sides of celebration.

It can work both ways, said Bowman, now a senior advisor to the Blackhawks. Youve got to keep your priorities in order, but playing it too straight doesnt work, either.

Strangely enough, the solemnity that Chicago is practicing today has been a hallmark of rookie Antti Niemis approach all season long. The ascendant star goalie has been humble to the core, refusing even to engage in so much as phone calls with family or friends back at home in Finland during the WCF (finally, now we can enjoy talking a little, he said with a smile after Sundays game). His game plan for the run-up to the Finals was par for the course.

I have no idea how long well have to celebrate the win, he said. We shouldnt be celebrating too long, though. Theres still more to play.

Not to say that everythings structured and planned out in Chicago. Game 4 and WCF hero Dustin Byfuglien was asked about Stanley Cup preparation before he had much of a chance to enjoy getting there, and his speculation was as good as anyones. Im guessing the trainers are going to have something going on, dont you think?

The Blackhawks arent exactly making it up as they go along, but playing into June is uncharted territory for this generation of Redshirts. And given the solemnity theyre approaching the Finals, poor preparation and loss of focus wont be their downfall.

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."