Blackhawks: Artemi Panarin adjusting to postseason game

Blackhawks: Artemi Panarin adjusting to postseason game

Last week, Artemi Panarin was asked to compare the KHL and NHL playoffs. He didn’t, because at that point he had no NHL postseason experience.

Now he has a glimpse of what the playoffs are on this side of the pond. It’s a small sample size, for sure, but Panarin now not only knows how fast the NHL playoff game is, but how physically taxing it can be. Still, so far he’s done all right.

Panarin was looking more like himself on Friday night, when the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 to even the first-round series at a game apiece. For Panarin, his adjustment to the NHL’s regular season came fairly fast. And after two games it looks like he’s transitioning to the playoffs pretty quickly, too.

“It's more physical games in the playoffs. It's more responsibility on the ice in playoff games,” Panarin said through Artem Anisimov, who interpreted for him in Saturday’s availability. “I tried to play more responsible in my own end without unnecessary risks in the games.”

While Panarin had more shots in Game 1 than in Game 2 – five on Wednesday, compared to two on Friday – he was more noticeable and played a more all-around game in the second outing. He also added what ended up being the game winner, an empty-net goal that looked like more of a clearing attempt than a shot on goal.

“I thought he did a great job last night; him and [Patrick Kane] had some great looks,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought he had some speed, he had the puck, he was dangerous. Sometimes those guys were willing to unload the puck without looking for a better play, and I think sometimes simplicity between the two of them in a series like this, with them keeping an eye on him pretty tightly, I think that can help him going along.”

Panarin played those regular-season games against the Blues but that was only going to prepare him so much for a playoff series with them. It was going to be more intense, it was definitely going to be more physical. Panarin now knows what the NHL postseason has to offer, and he’s adjusting fast.

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut


Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!