Niklas Hjalmarsson was understandably happy for two reasons.
He and his wife welcomed their second child, a boy, a few days ago. And now he can concentrate on playoff hockey, what he considers "the most fun part of the year."
"Yeah, it's a big relief to have been able to be a part of it myself, to be in town for it. I'm excited and glad everything went well," said Hjalmarsson, who stayed in Chicago during the Blackhawks' final regular-season road trip to await the birth of his second son. "So [now] I'm just excited to get the playoffs going and be back with the team here. just try to do my thing."
Hjalmarsson practiced with the Blackhawks the last two days as the team preps for Game 1 against the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. Hjalmarsson is like so many of his teammates: he hates missing games. But considering it was family first it was an easy call. That, and the extra rest after leading the Blackhawks in blocked shots this season is never a bad idea.
"Yeah, you can see it as a positive," he said. "I did a lot of working out and stayed in shape here on home ice, so I'm well rested. So I can't complain about that."
Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson's break could benefit the defenseman mentally as well as physically.
"He's a warrior. No matter what he's going through and how he deals with pain or some tough shots in some spots, [he's] getting right back out there and trying to do the same thing and not being influenced with where he has to go. You've got to commend him on how he's a battler and how he does everything he can to keep the pucks ahead of him. I think that's probably not a bad thing that he went through being off for a few days," Quenneville said. "Everything's good now [with his family], so it's probably a good frame of mind to be approached in the playoffs."
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Watch for SHGs
Special teams always loom large and for the Blackhawks, there's one more item they're adding to the be-on-alert list: The Predators' propensity for scoring short-handed goals. Nashville scored a league-leading 12 of them this season.
"They have so many short-handed goals. They can create offense off the kill," Marian Hossa said. "They have so many guys who have been really hot lately, lots of individuals who can score the goals. It's really dangerous, and you have to play an even game. We have to be good defensively and wait for mistakes… when you play well defensively you're going to create options."
Michal Rozsival underwent successful surgery to repair facial fractures on Tuesday. As for Rozsival's recovery timeline, Quenneville said, "at some point we expect him to be available." Rozsival was injured by a Nick Ritchie punch in the Blackhawks' game in Anaheim on Thursday.