Blackhawks

Hawks, Pens to battle with differing views of playoffs

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Hawks, Pens to battle with differing views of playoffs

Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011
10:17 a.m.
Associated Press

The winners of the last two Stanley Cups square off for the only time this season Sunday at the United Center.

Neither the Chicago Blackhawks nor the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, resemble their Cup-winning teams or are playing at a championship level.

The defending champion Blackhawks (29-23-6) might again be without coach Joel Quenneville as he continues to recover from gastrointestinal bleeding brought on by a small ulcer. The 52-year-old has been released from the hospital, but it is unclear when he will return to the bench.

The health of its coach isn't Chicago's only concern.

The Blackhawks are 11th in Western Conference, four points out of a playoff spot. They lost to Columbus 4-3 on Friday after earning six of eight points in their previous four games (2-0-2).

"We've got to bear down," said assistant coach Mike Haviland, who has led the team in Quenneville's absence the last two games.

While a playoff berth for Chicago diminishes with each loss, Pittsburgh looks like it will be making a fifth straight playoff appearance despite its troubles.

The Penguins (36-19-4) haven't played since beating Colorado 3-2 in overtime Wednesday, avoiding a fifth loss in six games. They are in fourth place in the East, five points behind conference-leading Philadelphia and 12 up on eighth-place Carolina, but the team has been decimated by injuries.

Superstar center Sidney Crosby hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion and Evgeni Malkin, the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, is done for the season after having surgery on his torn ACL and MCL. Forwards Arron Asham, Mike Comrie, Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu and Eric Tangradi are also sidelined.

Amidst all these injuries, Pittsburgh will welcome the return of Matt Cooke to the lineup in Chicago after the left wing completed a four-game suspension Wednesday for a hard hit on Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin.

With their top three goal-scorers out (Crosby, Kunitz and Malkin), Tyler Kennedy again stepped up for the banged-up Penguins on Wednesday, scoring a power-play goal 4:10 into overtime. Kennedy has five goals in the last eight games after scoring only two in his previous 24.

"Staying focused on how we need to play," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Making sure we're playing the right way to give us a chance to have success. We've had a fair amount of success doing it. That's really been the mindset and struggle of our team - to stay in that mindset."

While Pittsburgh's roster looks different from its 2009 Stanley Cup champion team because of injuries, the Blackhawks had to part ways with several key members of last season's team because of the salary cap.

They kept their core intact, but have been receiving little production from their role players.

Against the Blue Jackets, Patrick Sharp had two goals and assisted on a score by Patrick Kane as Chicago's top line - along with Jonathan Toews - accounted for all of its offense. Kane and Toews both had two assists, and the trio has combined for 20 of the team's 38 points in the last five games.

"Those guys are game breakers," Pittsburgh right wing Craig Adams said. "We are going to pay special attention to them if we can."

This will be the first meeting between these teams since Chicago's 2-1 overtime win in Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, 2009.

"We're going keep plugging along here," Sharp said. "We're going to get on a hot streak, win some games and get ourselves right back in it."

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.