Blackhawks

Konroyd's keys for Game 3 of Blackhawks-Wild

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Konroyd's keys for Game 3 of Blackhawks-Wild

1. Continue to protect the lines

The two blue lines and center red lines are more than just for calling offsides and icings. They are a great gauge for defensemen when they don’t have the puck. Try not to back off the offensive blue line too quickly and allow easy breakouts for the other team. Force the attackers before they hit the center red line so that they make a bad pass or ice the puck. And finally, make a stand at your own blue line so that you are not giving up the zone and allowing the opposition to set up. The Blackhawks defensemen have done a masterful job in this respect as they have put a lot of pressure on the puck carrier. Numerous times In Game 2 either Duncan Keith, Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson or Brent Seabrook were forcing the issue at these lines and forcing the Wild into turnovers or slowing down their rush attack. Keep being aggressive at these three lines.

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2. Cover your prime real estate

The Blackhawks have done a great job of protecting the front of their own net and also Corey Crawford. The Wild are know as a team that attacks with speed, gets pucks deep, gets them back, and goes to the front of the net with their forwards and defensemen involved. That has not really happened in this series, aside from 10 minutes in the second period of Game 1. Not only have the Hawks been slowing down the Wild as a result of Key 1, they have been very quick to counter, getting back on dump-ins and starting the other way with perfect passes. The fact that the Hawks forwards are coming back hard and very deep in their own end has really helped this process. Minnesota will make a deliberate push to get some of their bigger bodies (Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Charlie Coyle) going hard to the blue paint.  Make sure there is a push back.

3. Keep it simple

The Wild are in a pretty precarious position right now. They are charged with the task of having to win four of their next five games against the Hawks in order to advance to the next round. Their best players have not been their best players, and there will be a huge push by their stars to be difference makers. Ryan Suter is a minus-13 in his 13 postseason games against Chicago during the last two-plus years. Koivu, their team captain, is a minus-12 with just two assists during the same time. These guys, among others, will be pressing and the best way to take advantage of that is to play a simple, disciplined game. This is a lot easier to do on the road, and we have seen Chicago play this patient style with great success in the first two games of this series.  

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.