Scott King

How Blackhawks can beat Oilers with 'wealth of success' in qualifying round

How Blackhawks can beat Oilers with 'wealth of success' in qualifying round

Training camp is set to begin on Monday, and before long, the Blackhawks will be heading to Edmonton to take on the Oilers in a best-of-five play-in series beginning Aug. 1 under the NHL's 24-team playoff format.

NHL Network analyst and former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes helps us break down the matchup.

"One thing that's important for the Hawks, they've got superheroes in their group," Weekes told NBC Sports Chicago over the phone. "Obviously in (Leon) Draisaitl and Connor (McDavid) those guys are superhero players. ... Let's be clear, those guys have two Hart trophy candidates on their team, the Oilers. And they've really improved as a team. They're a more complete team, their special teams are both in the Top 5: power play, penalty kill. (Head coach) Dave Tippett's done a masterful job. 

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"I had a chance to speak to them when they were here at Madison Square Garden playing the Rangers, they've got a lot more experience: James Neal coming there, Mike Smith coming there, guys that know Dave Tippett (and) played for him in Dallas. You know the Great 99, Wayne Gretzky, I spoke with him numerous times about their team. He's excited about their team, literally gitty based on how much of a team they are. Let's say that, I'm just going to position their team and give them their due. 

(And now the fun part.)

"With that being said, the Chicago Blackhawks have future Hall of Famers in their group and I always said, 'It's hard for me to justify betting against superheroes.' And that being (Patrick) Kane, who's going to go down as the best American-born player ever, passes 1,000 points, three-time Cup champ. I can go on and on about Kaner and then same thing for Jonathan Toews. Duncs (Duncan Keith) can still play at a high level and still play in the first pair and (Brent) Seabrook is close to returning I understand from three surgeries, which is wild, which is a huge testament to him, who he is as a person and his determination and his professionalism. 

Related: Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook practices for first time since surgeries

"When you have those guys that have seen that and have experienced that and have been through that and all the international success that they have, that's a wealth of success that those guys have to their credit, same thing for Corey Crawford. So knowing how to navigate a Stanley Cup playoff and not being fazed by the big stage... As I asked Jonathan Toews, I had him on my Instagram probably a month ago, I asked Tazer, 'What is it about winning?' Honestly, he wins at walking down the street, he's won at every level, every single level. 

"So there's something to be said for that swag, that belief, that experience and he's unlocked the code. They have guys in their group that have unlocked the code numerous times. So that to me, is helpful. And especially when you're playing remotely and you don't have the benefit of the great crowd at the United Center, you don't have that 22,000 and the thunderous roars in your building, which is a huge advantage. 

Related: How will long layoff affect goalies in NHL's 24-team postseason?

"But, to be fair, Edmonton won't have their crowd either. They'll have their rink, they'll be in their home city, but they won't have their crowd physically in their building. Although, it's a newer building so I think that kind of neutralizes things a bit in terms of a home ice advantage so to speak."

Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook practices for first time since surgeries

Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook practices for first time since surgeries

On Thursday, Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook joined the team for voluntary small-group workouts — under the NHL's Return To Play plan guidelines — at Fifth Third Arena.

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Nice to Seabs ya back on the ice Brent 👀

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The Hawks are scheduled to begin their training camp for the league's 24-team playoffs at Fifth Third, their practice facility, on Monday before taking on the Oilers in Edmonton beginning Aug. 1 in a best-of-five play-in series.

Related: If Seabrook returns, where does he fit in Blackhawks' postseason lineup?

The three-time Stanley Cup champion had surgeries on his right shoulder in December, left hip in January and right hip February. Thursday marked his first practice with the team since the surgeries.

On Saturday, The Athletic reported the blueliner wanted to suit up for this year's camp and postseason. 

Seabrook last played December 15 in a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild.

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How will long layoff affect goalies in NHL's 24-team postseason?

How will long layoff affect goalies in NHL's 24-team postseason?

Goalies are creatures of habit. Their daily routines are more sacred than those of the players at other positions. They prepare more extensively and they have to be the most dialed-in on the ice. 

Throw in a global pandemic that's greatly diminished their reps and thrown off their rhythm ahead of the NHL's 24-team playoff format set to begin August 1 and what happens?

NHL Network analyst and former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes is here to tell us.

"As a goalie, the challenge of that is it's such a feel-intuitive sport and it's almost like golf: you have to play and play often, even your practice rounds, just to be able to have your touch, your timing, your reads, your spacing, your positioning, your instincts, all those things," Weekes told NBC Sports Chicago over the phone on Wednesday. 

"So the challenge with being a tender is when that's limited or when that's compromised, it certainly impacts you. But right now, I think for those guys, pending their bodies and what they can handle, I think at least one way to counteract that is see as many pucks as possible right now."

The league's netminders will at least have the opportunity to see pucks for two weeks with their team starting on Monday when formal training camps leading up to the postseason at hub cities Edmonton and Toronto begin.

Weekes — who tended goal in the show for 11 years and helped lead the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002 — says a number of goalies, depending on where they've been on the grid, have been able to keep some of their skills sharp during the NHL pause that began on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He mentioned goalies like Henrik Lundqvist, who went back home to Europe, have been able to skate almost the entire duration of the pause.

"Then, there are other guys who, let's say are in Florida, I know (Sergei) Bobrovsky started skating a while back, Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa has been skating for quite some time," Weekes added. "So, depending on where you're situated, where you're located geographically, that kind of had a big impact on whether or not you were able to get to a rink."

But what about goalies who weren't able to get on the ice or see shots?

According to Kevin, they've had to come up with ways to stay fresh and ready at home beyond throwing a tennis ball against the wall like you see them do in the tunnel before games.

A lot of goalies had already upgraded from ball-on-the-wall to tennis ball machine prior to the pause. Others have been doing online vision training and vision exercises according to Weekes

"It's literally been all over the map," he said. "Some guys have been able to play tennis and feel like that's helped them with their footwork and their conditioning and just tracking, having something directed at them. 

"So it's literally been all over the map for different guys that I've spoken with but nothing can fully simulate it, guys are just trying to do the best that they could. What was challenging for some guys is some guys were stuck in situations where that's all that they had available to them and then they go on Instagram and for example see Henrik skating, which he should be, which is awesome."

Come the start of the tournament, it may be obvious who was able to keep their last line of defense weapons sharp. You can only cram so much into two weeks.

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