After flurry of key injuries, Blackhawks getting healthy at the right time

USA Today

After flurry of key injuries, Blackhawks getting healthy at the right time

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Blackhawks were decimated by injuries during the first half of the season and most of them were key pieces to the puzzle, particularly on the back end, which included Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy and season-ending injuries to Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook.

But the Blackhawks are starting to get healthy at the perfect time.

Drake Caggiula missed 27 games with a concussion and has five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games since returning to the lineup. Brandon Saad, who missed 12 games with a right ankle sprain, also came back before the NHL All-Star break and didn't skip a beat, scoring two goals in three games. 

And now they're hoping for the same from Dylan Strome, who practiced with the team on Thursday in Arizona for the first time since suffering a right ankle sprain on Jan. 7 that's forced him to miss seven games. It’s unclear whether he’ll play on Saturday against the Coyotes, but it’s a positive sign that he was a full participant.

“I think a game’s a lot different than a practice,” Strome said. “Try to push it pretty hard tomorrow. Felt pretty good out there, did a lot of skating. It’s an injury where you just don’t want to make it worse. I tried to skate a few times after it happened and didn’t really help it. Felt OK to walk on, but the skating's just a different story. Took some time off, got the right treatment, feels pretty good now so happy about that.”

Strome initially thought he broke his leg on the play. But the MRI showed no structural damage and it was ruled by team doctors as a sprain, which was a huge sigh of relief for Strome, who admitted "I hate missing games more than anyone."

"I got lucky," he said. "There's no way around it. You see Dougie Hamilton [who suffered a fractured fibula two weeks ago], it's pretty much the same thing that happened to him. I got lucky. Whatever it was, it just didn't feel good right when it happened. ... It felt like something wasn't right. I was walking around with my stuff off right after it happened. Tried to push on it and see if I could go back out there. I was limping pretty good. Obviously the right thing to stay off it and recover."

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, Strome should be back in the lineup soon to help balance out the four-line rotation as they look to climb back into the playoff race.

The lengthy break may not have come at an opportune time from the standpoint the Blackhawks have won 11 of their past 16 games and five of their last six, but it allowed the players an opportunity to heal up and that's probably the most important part. Now it's picking up where they left off.

"Our focus is to try and find that rhythm again," Jonathan Toews said. "It's like anything you do, you take yourself out of something you've been doing every day for months and months, you kind of let your hair down a little bit and the wind goes out of the sails a little bit. So, just got to find a way.

"It's nice that we have today's practice and tomorrow to get our bodies ready and our mind back in the grind to be ready because we know it's going to be a tough game Saturday. Arizona's having a couple games before that, so they'll be ready too, but we don't want to miss a beat getting back at it."

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Hawks lose 6-3 to the Oilers in Game 2

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Hawks lose 6-3 to the Oilers in Game 2

In Game 2 of the best-of-five series between the Blackhawks and Oilers, the good guys took a step back and lost 6-3. Host Pat Boyle is joined by Blackhawks analyst Steve Konroyd as they discuss the loss, the play of the Hawks, and what needs to change for the Blackhawks to win Game 3.

(1:00) - Connor McDavid had a great comeback game

(7:52) - Breaking down the play of Olli Määttä

(12:00) - Missed opportunities to score for the Hawks

(16:46) - Adjustments for the Hawks

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Blackhawks can't match Oilers' intensity as Connor McDavid leads way in Game 2

Blackhawks can't match Oilers' intensity as Connor McDavid leads way in Game 2

Let's be honest: The Blackhawks dominated the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1. The final score was 6-4, but there was never a doubt as to which team was in the driver’s seat from start to finish.

So going into Game 2, the Blackhawks knew the Oilers would come out desperate.

"We’d be naïve," head coach Jeremy Colliton said before the game, "if we don’t think they’re going to throw everything they have at us."

And that's what the Oilers did. To be more exact: That's what Connor McDavid did.

After scoring 2:34 into Game 1, the two-time Art Ross Trophy winner scored 19 seconds into Game 2 and then again 3:46 later to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead before the Blackhawks even knew what hit them. He completed the hat trick in the second period, giving him four goals through two games so far.

It was clear from the first shift Game 2 would have a different feeling than Game 1. The Oilers, this time, were in control and they followed No. 97's lead.

"They were much better as a team than they were in Game 1, so give them credit there," Jonathan Toews said following a 6-3 loss on Monday. "And to add to the fact, I don't think we made things as hard on them as we did in the first game. So everything we did in that first game, we've got to step all that team game up a notch.

"McDavid's obviously a focus for me, and when we're not making things hard enough for them offensively, then we get ourselves in spots where we end up taking penalties, and you know what happens on the power play, a guy like McDavid's going to make you play. A couple times early in the game, we give him grade A chances and he's not making any mistakes. You know what we're going to get out of him every game, so we've got to be better on him."

You just knew McDavid wouldn’t let his team fall behind 2-0 in a series that easily, especially as the No. 5 seed in their own building. He certainly looked extra motivated to be a factor at even strength after being shut down in Game 1 — all three of his points came on the power play.

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This was a virtual must-win for the Oilers. Only one team in NHL history has overcome a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series: New York Islanders in 1985 after losing Games 1 and 2 in overtime to the Washington Capitals then rallying to win the next three.

"Connor led the way," Oilers forward Tyler Ennis said. "He set the tone for us and gave us a spark. That's exactly what we needed, and everybody followed."

Credit the Blackhawks for clawing back and showing the kind of resiliency that helped them win Game 1. They fell behind 2-0 and tied it up at 3-3 before McDavid's hat trick put the Oilers back in front 4-3.

The game got away from the Blackhawks in the third period, where they were out-chanced 10-1. But that what was bound to happen for a team that was playing catch-up all game.

In the end, the Blackhawks won't sugarcoat their overall performance. It was no secret the Oilers would come out hungry, and the Blackhawks simply didn't match their intensity.

"Ultimately, we didn’t play to the level we need to to beat this team," Colliton said. "We knew going into this series it would be a challenge. ... It’s a 1-1 series, I’m sure no one picked us to sweep them. They won a game, now we have to find a way to be better on Wednesday, and we will."