Blackhawks

Hurting Blackhawks limp into All-Star break

651736.png

Hurting Blackhawks limp into All-Star break

Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 10:55 p.m.

The Blackhawks found out on Saturday what happens when youre not careful against the opportunistic Nashville Predators. They got a refresher course on Tuesday night.

Craig Smith and Mike Fisher scored off Blackhawks turnovers, and Pekka Rinne stopped 24 of 25 in the Predators 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks. It was the second consecutive loss for the Blackhawks, who were without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp and had five rookies in their lineup. They dropped to sixth in the Western Conference and fourth in the Central Division.

It definitely was not the way the Blackhawks wanted to go into the lengthy All-Star break.

Its just the way it is against Nashville: you need to have a good start and unfortunately just a couple of breakdowns cost us goals, defenseman Duncan Keith said. Weve done some good things, but these last two games against Nashville we werent happy with the way things went. We got behind early and unfortunately you cant get behind these guys.

Dave Bolland scored a power-play goal with 12:40 remaining in regulation, but the Blackhawks could get nothing more off the Predators goaltender. Nashville forward Colin Wilson scored an empty-net, power-play goal with 13 seconds remaining.

Corey Crawford allowed two goals on 25 shots.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday morning that the Blackhawks had to take a business-like approach into this pre-break finale. But they were careless early with the puck, and it cost them twice.

We sagged off that first goal; we lost a lot of momentum, Quenneville said. The start was OK, but for most of the first and all second we didnt have anything going. No pace. They were stronger in the puck area; very noticeable.

Defensive lapses have been a sore spot for the Blackhawks a few times this season. And the Predators, with their stifling brand of hockey, can be dominant with a two-goal lead.

We thought coming in it would be a grinding, low-scoring game. We had those two unfortunate giveaways -- mine was the first -- and you cant do that to a team like this, Sean ODonnell said. It was a big one going into the break and we just made some mental mistakes in the first that cost us.

The Blackhawks will have some time to get away from hockey and regroup for the stretch run. There isnt much wiggle room in the Central or West, and the Blackhawks will have to shore things up defensively if they want to be back atop both of them.

Its a tough loss, Crawford said. You look at the other teams in our division, it seems like everyones rolling right now. Were kind of up and down. Well see where we are when we start rolling after a couple games.

Welcome back: Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk's 'best medicine'

Welcome back: Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk's 'best medicine'

ST. LOUIS – Eddie Olczyk’s morning at Scottrade Center was full of hugs and handshakes, of questions and encouraging words, of smiles and even some tears.

It was a busy morning but a good one for Olczyk, who Wednesday night will do his first hockey broadcast since being diagnosed with colon cancer in August. For the first time in a while, Olczyk felt like himself.

“It feels normal. It feels comfortable,” said Olczyk, who will be alongside Doc Emrick when the Blackhawks face the St. Louis Blues. “I just feel invigorated. Seeing a lot of familiar faces, guys busting chops and a lot of well wishes.”

Olczyk went through his usual game-day routine, including quick chats with Blackhawks players following skate. On Wednesday those talks were that much more special, for both sides.

“Great to see him,” said Ryan Hartman. “When I first saw I was pretty excited to see him back. It’s definitely a presence you know when you’re watching games, that voice you heard growing up. He looks good, looks healthy. He’s in a battle but he looks really good.”

Olczyk will also be in the booth on Thursday night when the Blackhawks host the Edmonton Oilers. Past that, he’ll play it by ear. He’s talked to NBC and Blackhawks president John McDonough, who Olczyk said gave him an “open canvas” in terms of scheduling. If Olczyk feels good on Saturday and the Blackhawks play on Sunday, he’ll try to get back in the booth.

“We think about him every day and we’ve had the pleasure of having him come by a couple of times. Having him be here today for a road game is great to know,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But he has a tough battle ahead of him and he’s doing everything he can to fight it. We support him every single day.”

Olczyk started chemotherapy treatments in September and he has his good and bad days. Those will continue for a while. So will his fight to completely beat this. But for at least the next two nights Olczyk gets to return to a normal routine, and that’s the perfect panacea for a trying time.

“I’m overwhelmed with everybody,” Olczyk said. “But this is the best medicine I’ve had in a long time.”

Lance Bouma's second chance has meant steady work with Blackhawks

bouma.jpg
USA TODAY

Lance Bouma's second chance has meant steady work with Blackhawks

Lance Bouma took his place at fourth-line left wing as the Blackhawks rolled their forward rushes on Tuesday morning. As the Blackhawks have tinkered with their trios, Bouma, whose final two seasons with the Calgary Flames were filled with uncertainty, has found a consistent role in this lineup.

“Obviously I was brought here for a reason,” Bouma said. “Things didn’t go the way I wanted them to in Calgary. To come here to Chicago and have that role, it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

The Blackhawks knew what they wanted from Bouma and his fellow fourth liners: some physical play, some energy and if there are any scoring opportunities, bonus. It’s a second chance for Bouma, whose contract was terminated by the Flames on June 30.

“I think it’s definitely a motivator knowing that you get in that situation where all of a sudden, ‘OK, I have to almost start over again and I have to prove to a new team that I belong in this league and I can play,’” coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday. “There are always circumstances where teams make decisions like that. We’ve been a part of it. And moving forward as a player, you’ve gotta look at it as a fresh opportunity. It’s an opportunity to get back to playing your game.”

After recording 16 goals and 18 assists in the 2014-15 season, Bouma signed a three-year, $6.6 million deal with the Flames. The next two seasons didn’t go as planned as Bouma dealt with injuries, inconsistent play and healthy scratches. So getting that call from the Blackhawks was a huge lift.

“I was just looking forward to a fresh start and something new,” he said. “I just was ready to come into camp and have a great season and it’s been great so far.”

[MORE: Eddie Olczyk expected to return to broadcasting booth this week

Tommy Wingels, who has centered the Blackhawks’ fourth line the last several games – and will again vs. St. Louis on Wednesday – said Bouma looks “refreshed” this season.

“Obviously whether it’s a team doesn’t want to bring you back or it’s a trade or buyout, there’s certainly something that deep down gets you going,” Wingels said. “I think it was a good summer for him mentally to come to a new organization, come to a new group of guys and re-establish his game. It’s tough when you’re with the same coaches, same team for so long; maybe what you do gets taken for granted. He looks good and he’s skating really well and I think he moves really well for a big man. He’s strong on the pucks and he’s a good asset for us.

Bouma isn’t here to be a top-six player. He’s not here to fulfill a contract that he no longer has. The Blackhawks needed depth, energy and a physical presence and in brining that, Bouma has earned steady work.  

“We knew the player coming in that we wanted him to play that style and he’s done a good job of it, too,” Quenneville said of Bouma. “So it’s something we were looking for in our needs and it fit perfectly."