Blackhawks

Blackhawks need to make Predators' Pekka Rinne’s job tougher

Blackhawks need to make Predators' Pekka Rinne’s job tougher

Get tips, get deflections, get bodies to the net, get traffic, take away the goalies' eyes. It's the usual checklist for any team that wants to be successful, especially in the postseason. You want to score goals, get to the net.

But in Game 1, the Blackhawks didn't check enough of those off against Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.

"He definitely saw a lot of the shots. We didn't make it too hard on him. He had a shutout, but it probably wasn't the hardest shutout he had in his life," Ryan Hartman said. "I just think we need to get more pucks to the net."

The Blackhawks were implementing that a lot at Friday's practice, working on those tips, deflections and redirects. Now to use it in Game 2 on Saturday night, when the Blackhawks will look to tie their first-round series against the Predators.

Hartman, who's been good at that all season, was taking turns at the top-line left-wing spot with John Hayden. As of now, it looks like Hartman's most likely there, with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on Saturday. It should be a seamless transition; given he's been there before. The plan is clear, too.

"If I am playing there play hard, be hard to play against. We need more bodies at the net, so I'll be net-front," he said.

Team-wise the Blackhawks have to get back to that. Rinne was good on Thursday, no doubt. The Predators were, too, in terms of keeping the Blackhawks from causing too much of a ruckus in front of their net minder. The Blackhawks are just going to have to fight through it.

"They make it tough to get there and that's part of getting to that hard area. It takes will. It's easier said than done. But they all know if they want to score goals, that's where the rewards are," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Goalies are too good, too big and if they see the puck they're going to stop it. We have to get there in order to make it tough on them, at least try to get second opportunities. So we have to be tougher, harder to play against, certainly in that area."

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The Blackhawks’ early shots, especially, were from the perimeter. They got closer as the game went on but it wasn’t consistent. Rinne credited his teammates for making his job a little easier on Thursday.

“We did a really good job of making it hard for them to get in front of the net. Our D was playing physical, doing a good job of keeping them outside. I was able to see most of the shots,” he said. “But anytime you don’t score goals, the next day they want to put more bodies in front of the net, so we gotta expect that [in Game 2].”

Game 1 wasn't the Blackhawks' greatest outing but it's not the first time they've dealt with a 1-0 deficit – or worse. They had no problem with what they gave up, which wasn't much. It's what they didn't do on the other side that needs to change.

"I can't stress enough: get in front of his eyes, make it harder for him to see pucks," Hartman said. "Hopefully we put one in the net tomorrow."

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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