Blackhawks

Hamilton excited about postponed return to native region

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Hamilton excited about postponed return to native region

PHILADELPHIA The last time the Bulls were in the City of Brotherly Love, their player with the closest ties to the region, veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton, was unavailable to play against the 76ers. In fact, going back to their previous outing, a win at Washington in the second game of a season-long nine-game road trip, Hamilton was absent and wouldnt see game action until after the All-Star break.

This time around, Hamilton, a native of nearby Coatesville, Pa., is once again healthy and the fully-intact Bulls are on a mission for revenge after a uncharacteristically lackluster defeat in that February game. For the veteran shooting guard, Sundays contest is even more significant because for the first time since his former team, the Pistons, were a postseason participant, his loved ones will get to see him on a serious contender.

I was highly disappointed last time, not getting the opportunity to play here. I always get excited about coming back home and playing in front of my friends and family, Hamilton, who insisted that he grew up a Bulls, not Sixers fan, said before the Bulls Sunday-morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center. Its always exciting to be back and playing at a high level. My family appreciates it. Theyre my supporters, regardless of what the situation is. They want to come and support me and its a great opportunity for them to come out and do it.

Its a reunion for Hamilton in another way, as well. As a young player with the Wizards, he was coached by current Philadelphia and former Chicago head coach Doug Collins. Needless to say, the 13-year veteran isnt surprised by his former mentors success with the Sixers.

Doug does a great job. Dougs a great coach I had him when I was in Washington so he does an excellent job of getting those guys ready and getting them prepared. Anytime hes coaching a team, good things can happen, Hamilton explained. I think what Doug does is he teaches kids how to play the right way. When I was in Washington, he showed me a couple tricks and showed me how to play the game, so for any young kid, hes tough, hes hard, but he respects the game and always brings the best out of you.

The feeling is mutual. Collins, a former broadcaster between coaching stints, went into great detail when breaking down Hamiltons game.

If Rip is healthy, hes got great speed off the ball. He probably uses screens, reads screens as well as anybody in the NBA. You can post him up a little bit. The Bulls are actually posting him if you get him in a favorable matchup. Were expecting him to probably try to post up against Jodie Meeks to start the game tonight, but where Rip has really improved, I think, through his championship days in Detroit, is when he comes off those screens, hes become a much better passer.

"If that big guy helps up, he does a much better job of finding that big guy rolling to the basket and hes very, very good in the open court. Good defender, so he has a very good all-around game and his maturity as a veteran, he said. Hes been there. I think the Pistons went to six straight conference finals and were in the NBA Finals twice and won it once, so he brings a very experienced guy, who under pressure is a really good player. Hes won a national championship, hes won an NBA championship, so Rip is a champion and you put that on your team. Now, you have Korver coming off your bench and you have those kind of guys who can really shoot the ball. They have the ability to go small if they want to. They can move Lu to the four and cause problems, so they have a lot of versatility. Pax and Gar have done a really good job with their team.

The one thing with Rip, he was as always, I thought, as well-conditioned a player as anyone in the NBA. He can run all day and to me, when you can do that, you can wear people down. I played the two-guard position and I talked to Rip about playing that position and understanding what teams are doing against you, how are they playing you, reading the defense and I used to always tell him, Dont fight pressure with pressure; go away from pressure, so if theyre doing something, go away from that; dont try to fight them with that, Collins added. Im really proud of Rip. I know hes from Coatesville and very proud of being from this area, and Im sure hes going to want to come out tonight and play great in front of his family and a lot of friends.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."