Rested Blackhawks prepping for physical Conference Final


Rested Blackhawks prepping for physical Conference Final

The Blackhawks got back to practice on Sunday after two days away from the rink.

It was good to get a few complete days off, to check out mentally from the game. It’s also been good to heal any nagging bumps and bruises they may have received in the first two rounds. Because come the Western Conference Final, the physical aspect is going to increase.

Whether the Blackhawks face the Calgary Flames or the Anaheim Ducks — the two square off Sunday night, with Anaheim up 3-1 in the second-round series — the Blackhawks are going to face a more bruising opponent than Nashville or Minnesota. So getting a few more days to rest, heal and refresh heading into the next round is very beneficial.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: David Rundblad will replace Michal Rozsival]

“Calgary’s a hard-working team. That’s something they’ll try and bring. Same with Anaheim; they have a lot of big bodies, similar to LA last year,” Jonathan Toews said. “We can probably expect more physicality. Every series you see that rise, and it’s probably what we can expect in the next one.”

Now here’s the part that surprises us a bit: while the Ducks and the Flames usually play a more physical game than the Blackhawks, they’re not all that far apart this postseason. Entering Sunday night’s game, the Ducks have recorded 285 hits in eight games and Calgary’s landed 273 in 10 games. Chicago, which has also played 10 postseason games, has been credited with 282 hits.

Still, the two teams are more known for that physical style than the Blackhawks are. Not that it’s going to change the Blackhawks’ approach.

“No matter how you play them you’ve got to play the right way, you want to make sure you don't change the way you play. You’ve got awareness to what you want to do against them, but I don’t think you want to get distracted where you need to go to be successful,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think Anaheim, they've got a big team — they play hard, they play physical. Calgary plays maybe a little bit more up-tempo. But at the same time both teams can score and they put a lot of pressure on you. We’ll see what happens.”

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This is also just part of reaching this juncture of the postseason. Everything gets intensified, be it the level of play the emotions or the hits.

“You expect it to go up every round a little bit, the deeper you go,” Marcus Kruger said. “Both of those teams, they’re two good teams and physical. No matter who we play it’s going to be a tough series.”

The Blackhawks have gotten to this point in relatively good health — outside of the awful ankle injury to Michal Rozsival, of course. The Western Conference Finals will likely be their most physical test. This extended rest should prep them for it.

“We’ve played both those teams, good skating teams. Anaheim’s a physical team and Calgary’s got some players who are physical, too,” Duncan Keith said. “We’ve always been able to respond to those challenges, whether it’s physical or speed. We have to keep doing that.”

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?