Blackhawks aware Wild not the same team from past playoff battles


Blackhawks aware Wild not the same team from past playoff battles

When the Blackhawks faced the Minnesota Wild in the 2013 Western Conference quarterfinals, most had a pretty good idea of how the series would go.

The Blackhawks were entering the postseason with a head of steam; it was the lockout-shortened season in which the Blackhawks started on a 21-0-3 tear and never looked back. The Wild, meanwhile, had to fight until game No. 48 to get into the postseason. So it wasn’t surprising that the Blackhawks eliminated Minnesota in five games that spring.

Much has changed since then. Last year when the two teams met, it was much closer with the Blackhawks fighting all the way to send the Wild home in six games. And considering how the Wild came on the second half of this season, the Blackhawks are expecting the tussle of their postseason lives in this round.

Indeed, this is not your older brother’s Minnesota Wild.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“You can see from the regular season, how they got in the playoffs and how they played in thefirst round, [that] it’s going to be a different team than the previous years,” Bryan Bickell said. “So we’re excited to be in the second round and have home ice.”

The Blackhawks face a very tricky test in the Wild. In the last two regular-season meetings (aka the Devan Dubnyk era), the Wild beat the Blackhawks both times, holding them to just one goal. The Wild also enter this series as confident as the Blackhawks do; Minnesota eliminated the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon with Dubnyk and Zach Parise having a noticeably strong series. Dubnyk went 4-2-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Parise had three goals and four assists in those six games, including two goals on Sunday.

[MORE: Crawford in net for Game 1 vs. Wild]

“We feel like it’s going to be a long, hard-fought series but you never know. Anything can happen,” Corey Crawford said. “We have to be prepared to play our best. That team’s been getting better and better every year.”

The Wild is a different team than it was two seasons ago. Actually, it’s not even the same Wild team the Blackhawks faced five months ago; the Wild’s resurgence from mid-January until now was astounding. The Blackhawks are taking the Wild very seriously, as well they should.

“They’re a good hockey team and they had an amazing run to get into the playoffs. They’ve got a lot of confidence. They play an excellent team game. They’ve got some speed, quickness. They’ve gained a lot of momentum at this time of the year off what they’ve achieved,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think we’re very familiar with their team, what they’re capable of doing and knowing that we’ve got a great challenge in front of us.”

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens


All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

The second wave of Blackhawks defensemen is on the way. That's exactly where all the attention was when prospect camp opened up Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Nicolas Beaudin. Adam Boqvist. Henri Jokiharju. Ian Mitchell. Call it the Big Four. Where are they all at in their development? When will they be ready to make an NHL impact? Who's the most pro ready? 

Lots of questions. Those will slowly start to get answered and it begins now.

While there may not necessarily be an open competition among the group right away, there's certainly a desire to make a strong first impression in front of the upper brass that included Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville watching on Day 1.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensemen prospects, so I mean obviously when you want to go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can," Mitchell said. "Obviously you want to be the best defenseman here so that's my goal going into this, I want to prove to everyone that I'm a good defenseman, I deserve to play at the next level. Obviously there's lots of good players here, but you're trying to all succeed."

Said Beaudin: "There's a lot of competition. There's a lot of good, young defensemen. I think you just need to be different when you play when you show what you can do."

Said Boqvist: "I'm trying to be better every day. Of course I will play in the NHL one day and win Stanley Cups, so that's my mindset."

The theme? Focus on your own game, take what you learn out of this week and apply those tools in your game when advancing your development next season. The rest will take care of itself.

Mitchell will go back to Denver for his sophomore campaign to continue his development. Beaudin is expected to return to the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Boqvist signed with the OHL's London Knights, where he will look to get accustomed to the North American style of play.

For Jokiharju, the goal is different. This is his second development camp. He signed an entry-level contract in June. Making the big club is a real goal and a legitimate possibility for a Blackhawks team looking for young, impact defensemen immediately.

"I think if Henri has a really good summer of training, comes into camp, I certainly thinks he gets a good look," Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NBC Sports Chicago last month.

Jokiharju showed poise and confidence with and without the puck during drills, like someone who knows this is only the first step towards that ultimate goal.

"Yeah," Jokiharju responded when asked if the expectation is to make it to the NHL this season. "You want to set the bar high, you don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big and that's the dream."

That's the dream for everyone. When that happens, it's up to them. This week is a chance to set an early tone.

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was identified as the victim in an early morning drowning on Sunday at the Hamilton Harbour, Hamilton Police confirmed. He was 35.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, Emery and his friends jumped in the water around 6:30 a.m., but Emery never resurfaced. His body was recovered later in the afternoon.

Emery played in the NHL for 11 seasons, two of which came with the Blackhawks from 2011-13, where he served as a backup goaltender to Corey Crawford.

In 2013, he teammated up with Crawford to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals against in a single season, before going on to capture his first Stanley Cup. During that season, Emery went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Blackhawks issued this statement following the confirmation:

The Chicago Blackhawks organization was deeply saddened to hear of Ray Emery’s passing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. The Blackhawks will fondly remember Ray as a fierce competitor, a good teammate and a Stanley Cup champion.

The hockey community took to Twitter to offer their condolences when news began to spread: