Blackhawks

Blackhawks able to get some rest as they await next opponent

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Blackhawks able to get some rest as they await next opponent

The Blackhawks weren't able to do a whole lot at the start of Game 6 of their opening-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators, down by two goals just over eight minutes into game against a team that was fighting to stay above water.

But as Saturday's contest went on, the Predators weren't the only team playing a desperate game, and ultimately were unable to keep the Blackhawks from sending them packing.  

"To go out against a team like that and win four games, especially that last one, you know it's the toughest one," Jonathan Toews said following his team's 4-3 win. "So that confidence and that excitement has to get us ready and excited."

The Blackhawks could let out a slight sigh of relief knowing they made it past Round 1, but in the upcoming days, they'll face another huge challenge as they take on either the Minnesota Wild or St. Louis Blues.

[WATCH: Duncan Keith sends Blackhawks to second round with late goal]

So while Game 6 wasn't a do-or-die situation for Chicago, the Blackhawks felt extra motivation and their own sense of desperation to close things out as quickly as possible in order to have a few days of rest before their upcoming series kicks off. 

"It's important," Patrick Kane said when asked about how crucial an early series win is. "I think we're happy with winning here tonight. We knew we had a great opportunity in front of our home crowd to seize that moment and seize that opportunity. So it's a good thing we took advantage of it."

The Blackhawks also had the opportunity to end the Predators' series during Game 5 in Nashville after taking a 3-1 series lead following their big triple-overtime win in Game 4.

[MORE: Blackhawks rally to beat Predators, advance to second round]

And after missing that opportunity once, they weren't ready to do it again. Especially in front of a home crowd. 

"We learned from our mistakes in Game 5," Toews said. "It was going to take our best game of the series to push these guys out and I think we saw that in the last two periods."

After getting dominated through the first few minutes of Saturday's game, the Blackhawks managed to tie things up by the end of the first period before a goal from Duncan Keith solidified the win toward the end of the third period.

And like the other five games in the series, the Blackhawks and Predators looked pretty evenly matched a majority of the time. But it was Chicago that found ways to capitalize when it mattered most, and that's what pushed them through the first round in such a highly-competitive division.

"That says how tough our division and our conference is," head coach Joel Quenneville said. "You had Nashville all year, first in the league overall for a big stretch. Had some injury problems, but they're a good hockey team. We saw first-hand that they're deep. Hopefully we can get some excitement off of this win knowing we still have to be better moving forward."

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get the latest Blackhawks gear here]

The Blackhawks were happy to get the series over with without having to board another flight to Nashville. Now they'll have some extra time off before facing Minnesota or St. Louis, who could be playing as late as Wednesday if their series goes a full seven games.

Now the Blackhawks will focus and regroup as they wait to find out who their next-round opponent is.

"We'll watch and see what happens," Kane said. "Either opponent is going to be tough for us because of how tough the Central Division has been, the style both teams play. So we'll see what happens and adjust our game the way Joel tells us to for our next opponent."

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”