Blackhawks cognizant of mumps' return to NHL

Blackhawks cognizant of mumps' return to NHL

It's February. While the weather's been unusually nice there are a few other things synonymous with this time of year, including illness. The Blackhawks have encountered some of that right now. Fortunately for them, however, it's not the mumps that are once again hitting other NHL locker rooms.

The Minnesota Wild, who played the Blackhawks before heading into their bye, came out of their break with several players diagnosed with the mumps. It's the second time in three seasons the Wild have dealt with the illness. The Vancouver Canucks also came out of their bye with several players affected by the mumps. The Blackhawks are taking the necessary precautions to maintain health but aren't too concerned about it affecting them.

"I mean, it's that season where people get the flu, people get sick. You have to take care of yourself, get your sleep, get your rest, all the little things a doctor would tell you to do," Jonathan Toews said. "You make sure you're healthy and your immune system's strong. What else can do you? Knock on wood we squeak by with this whole deal again." 

The mumps, which are highly contagious, can be spread in various ways, including by sneezing or coughing, using the same cutlery/plates as an infected person or sharing food or drink with an infected person according to Medical News Today. Considering that and other causes, it's no surprise that it can go through a locker room fast.

"It's weird it seems to happen in the NHL and not elsewhere," Trevor van Riemsdyk said. "Obviously you're aware of all that stuff but we do a good job of doing the precautionary measures. It's tough to prevent. You can pass through physical contact, stuff like that, but with everything else we do a good job of taking care of ourselves. We're doing our due diligence on what we can control."

[MORE: Niklas Hjalmarsson out, Scott Darling starts vs. Penguins]

Asked if the Blackhawks got the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine after the outbreak two seasons ago, coach Joel Quenneville wasn't sure. He reiterated what others said about taking the necessary steps to stay healthy.

"I think our organization, staff, medical team, trainers are well aware when there's sickness internally, they're right on top of it," he said. "We're probably the only team in the league that travels with a doctor on the road full time. Whether it's flus, colds, mumps or what have you, [being] diligent on that is something the guys have done a really good job with; trying to prevent an epidemic where you have half a team out at the same time."

The Blackhawks have been hit by some bug recently. Corey Crawford and Jordin Tootoo returned to practice on Tuesday after dealing with their respective illnesses. The mumps, however, have returned to the NHL. The Blackhawks will do what they can to make sure they're not the next team battling them.

"You hear that word and you might get a little scared but at the same time we've had guys sick in here [with other things] as well. Throughout the whole year you try to take care of yourself, keep yourself fresh. It's easier said than done sometimes, and guys are eventually going to get sick," Patrick Kane said. "But at this time of year you really want to be cautious."

Oilers, Blackhawks' play-in round opponent, release training camp roster

Oilers, Blackhawks' play-in round opponent, release training camp roster

Sunday afternoon, the Edmonton Oilers released their Phase 3 training camp roster. Training camps begin on Monday for teams competing in the NHL's 24-team playoffs under the league's Return To Play program. 

The Blackhawks, who were at No. 12 in the Western Conference at the time of the NHL pause on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will face the No. 5 Oilers starting Aug. 1 at Edmonton in a best-of-five qualifying round. 

Related: Oiler's Mike Green opts out of NHL's Return To Play program

Edmonton invited 33 players to attend their Return To Play camp.

Forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl headline the team's roster. Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith are among the five goalies listed.

Western Conference teams will head to Edmonton's ICE District hub to prepare for the postseason tournament on July 26.

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How Blackhawks' Corey Crawford's career prepared him for Oilers series

How Blackhawks' Corey Crawford's career prepared him for Oilers series

When the Blackhawks signed Vezina trophy finalist Robin Lehner to a one-year deal last offseason, many thought that would be it for Corey Crawford. They thought Lehner would run away as the No. 1 goalie in Chicago and Crawford would disappear.

Those who still doubt Crawford, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Hawks, haven't watched his career very closely. 

Just as he battled to lead the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship in 2015 after suffering an off-ice lower-body injury and just as he battled back to be a reliable last line of defense after multiple concussions the last couple seasons, he battled for the Hawks' net this season. 

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

NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes thinks it's that experience of battling and repeatedly finding his game after long layoffs from injuries that could make him a dangerous opponent for the Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-five qualifying round in the NHL's 24-team postseason kicking off Aug. 1 at Edmonton, assuming Crawford is the Hawks' starting goalie. The Blackhawks begin their training camp for the postseason on Monday.

"For somebody that hasn't gone through (injuries) before, there's so many unknowns and then maybe there's question marks and the mental elevator starts creeping up at times in ways that aren't helpful," Weekes, a former NHL goalie, told NBC Sports Chicago over the phone. "But the fact that he's had that experience in battling back from injury and coming back a long way and having extended layoffs, this isn't foreign to him. 

"So in that respect, it should be beneficial in a weird way and also give him the chance to heal up and rest up even more by way of this extended pause. I think that those things play in his favor. Those things should be playing in his favor for sure."

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

This year, Crawford competed hard for the No. 1 goalie role. Leading up to the NHL pause on March 12, he had made 39 starts (16-20-3) and had a goals-against average of 2.77 with a .917 save percentage before the Hawks traded Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of the trade deadline. With the Blackhawks, Lehner made 31 starts (16-10-5) and had a goals-against average of 3.01 and a .918 save percentage. Both tenders' numbers were hurt by an often struggling Hawks defense this year.

"I've always been a huge advocate of Crow. Crow's had an excellent run in Chicago," Weekes said. "I think the biggest challenge for him, which we all know, which isn't a state secret, (there's) just been some health challenges and he always battles back. Crow's a guy that'll battle and he's been able to come a long way back and rediscover his game, which is hard to do after layoffs, let alone multiple ones. 

"And I think this year, once he got back, talking to their goalie coach in Jimmy Waite and you got to credit Jimmy because he's put in so much work to be able to regroup Crow, numerous times. So this season specifically, when he first started, it was a little bit of a slow start as expected because he had such an extended layoff. 

Related: What's Blackhawks' key to victory over Oilers in NHL play-in series?

"But, I really think with them having Robin Lehner, it really helped because they didn't have to throw Crow right into the fire. And then Crow hit his stride and he's playing really well. ... He's played really well, coming down the stretch he looked excellent as well and that's great news for the Hawks because they're going to need him, especially in a shorter series in this play-in round against Edmonton and the fact that Crow has the experience that he does, he's played in huge games. 

"He's played in, obviously, Stanley Cup (finals). He's a winner, he's not afraid of the big stage. He's not afraid to play in a place like Chicago, he thrives on that and not to mention, internationally for Team Canada. I think where they're concerned, as far as his ability and his talent, he just looks like himself right now, which is great news for the Hawks and I know that his teammates have a lot of confidence in him so as long as he's able to... I know he's been on the ice, as long as he's healthy and feeling good they've got a good shot because he's been there before and he's done it before. 

"It's a unique opportunity for him and for his team, but he can lean on that experience of having played in big spots like the Stanley Cup Final and playoffs for years. That could be an advantage for the Hawks actually in that respect."

It's not clear who will start in net yet for the Oilers. Mikko Koskinen was 18-13-3 this year with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage and Mike Smith was 19-12-6 with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. 

Although some of their numbers may measure up to Crawford's, neither goalie's journey can compare to his.

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