Blackhawks

LIVE: Blackhawks trail Canucks 2-0 in 3rd period

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LIVE: Blackhawks trail Canucks 2-0 in 3rd period

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.

Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks have plenty of recent rich history in their rivalry.

The past three seasons alone have included everything from hair pulling to body slams, name calling to calling out. Most important to any good NHL rivalry, the past two years it ended with Chicago knocking the Canucks out of the playoffs.

With a history like that, you'd think it would be easy to get players talking about each other before their first-round series kicks off Wednesday in Vancouver. Think again.

"You don't really need any more story lines," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who earlier this season accused Chicago counterpart Joel Quenneville of running up the score in a 7-1 November romp.

"Do you want me to do like that Jets coach here: 'it's between me and Quenneville?' No, there's a tremendous amount of story lines because of the history between both of these teams."

For all the bitter history, the focus going into the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series was how much these two teams have changed since last season.

Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup after eliminating Vancouver in six games in the second round for a second straight season.

But the Blackhawks were forced to shed 11 players to stay under the salary cap, including several key Canucks' antagonists, and needed help from Minnesota beating Dallas in the final game of the season Sunday just to make it back into the playoffs.

Meanwhile the Canucks, in part because of improvements made after losing again to Chicago, set franchise records for points (117) and wins (54) and became the first team since the 1977-78 Canadiens to lead the league in goals for and against while winning the Presidents' Trophy.

Listening to them talk about each other, you'd think each team was running the other's fan club.

The only disagreement was which team was the favorite.

"We're certainly underdogs in this series," Quenneville said.

Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo didn't sound quite as certain.

"Far as I know they're still Stanley Cup champs," he said.

Maybe so, but these are not the same Blackhawks that hoisted the Cup. Gone are goalie Antti Niemi and forward Andrew Ladd, who was once called a "coward" by Canucks center Ryan Kesler.

Big-bodied forward Dustin Byfuglien, who made life miserable in Luongo's crease, was traded, as was Kris Versteeg, who scored two game-winning goals in the last playoff series.

"They still have (Jonathan) Toews, (Patrick) Kane, (Duncan) Keith, and (Brent) Seabrook," Luongo said. "That's a dangerous team. They know how to win."

Especially in Vancouver, where the Canucks also host Game 2 on Friday before the series shifts to Chicago for Games 3 and 4. The Blackhawks won all three games in Vancouver last postseason, including a conclusive 5-1 victory in Game 6, and have a 5-1 record here the past two playoffs.

"Any mental edge would be thrown out the window the way the years have gone," Kane said. "But you always hope you have a mental edge and hope you are in the back of their minds that what happened wasn't a fluke and could happen again."

The Canucks say they learned from the losses, especially handing Chicago a run of power plays with undisciplined penalties in Games 3 and 4. They made changes to personnel, strengthening their defensive depth and adding grit up front. But the biggest adjustment was to their personality.

Just as they refused to repeat last season's talk about wanting to play Chicago and being eager for redemption, the players, led by former agitators Kesler and Alex Burrows, made a conscious effort to reduce trash talk to opponents and officials, something they learned from the Blackhawks.

"If you learn from the past there's a good chance the future will be different," Vigneault said. "We've proven a lot of things during the regular season and now it's our turn to try and prove it in the playoffs."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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.