Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson rested, ready for 'most fun part of the year'

Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson rested, ready for 'most fun part of the year'

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."

Rozsival recovering

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.

Blackhawks turn back the clock, channel late-game heroics in Game 3 win over Oilers

Blackhawks turn back the clock, channel late-game heroics in Game 3 win over Oilers

When the Blackhawks were winning Stanley Cups during the dynasty era, one of their best attributes was their ability to come through in clutch situations even when they weren’t at their best.

The Blackhawks desperately needed a moment like that in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers. And they delivered.

After trailing 3-2 going into the third period, the Blackhawks scored two goals in a span of 4:31 in the final six minutes of regulation thanks to a pair of redirections by Matthew Highmore and Jonathan Toews, who scored his second goal of the game and recorded his 11th game-winning postseason goal to tie Bobby Hull, Patrick Kane and Stan Mikita for most in franchise history.

It felt like old times again.

"We stuck with it," Toews said following a 4-3 win on Wednesday night. "It was a great team effort, some great contributions from all over our lineup."

As the “home” team in Game 3, the Blackhawks took over the Oilers’ dressing room and made themselves feel, well, at home. They hit the ice in their red sweaters, which was strange to see outside the United Center and brought back memories of the old days.

But nothing made the Blackhawks feel more at home than when a recorded rendition of the National Anthem and O Canada sung by Jim Cornelison blared over the speakers prior to puck drop. And while there were no fans in attendance to blow the roof off Rogers Place, the Blackhawks certainly felt comfort knowing a part of Chicago was with them in Edmonton.

"We noticed those little details," Toews said. 

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There were lots of ups and downs in Game 3, and it would’ve been easy for the Blackhawks to let their frustrations get the best of them. 

They hit five posts. They went 1-for-6 on the power play, with their only goal coming during a 5-on-3 advantage. They gave up 10 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 through the first two periods and generated just one of their own. Leon Draisaitl (twice) and Connor McDavid made them pay three times, scoring their goals from an average distance of eight feet.

But the Blackhawks dug in, turned back the clock, channeled some late-game heroics against an Oilers team that lost just once in regulation (29-1-2) during the regular season when leading after two periods and have a chance to close out a postseason series on Friday for the first time since the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

"Hard-fought game from us," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We showed a lot of character to stick with it. We were pretty solid defensively, did a good job eliminating their transition, and we found a way to score some dirty goals. Proud of how the guys worked. We'll enjoy it for tonight, then on to the next one."

Blackhawks overcome special teams woes to complete comeback in Game 3 vs. Oilers

Blackhawks overcome special teams woes to complete comeback in Game 3 vs. Oilers

The Blackhawks won 4-3 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-five series late Thursday night.

Here are four takeaways:

Late come-from-behind W

Trailing 2-3 in the third period, the Blackhawks scored two goals in 4:31 to complete the comeback.

Matthew Highmore got his first career postseason goal when he deflected a Slater Koekkoek one-timer past Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen at 14:13.

With just 1:16 remaining in regulation, defenseman Connor Murphy fired a wrister toward the net that Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews deflected in. On the goal, Toews tied Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Patrick Kane for most game-winning playoff goals in Blackhawks history (11). 

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UNspecial teams

There were A LOT of penalties in Wednesday's game, nine to be exact, with five in the first period alone. The Oilers had six infractions and the Hawks three.

Chicago went just 1-for-6 on the man advantage.

The Hawks had a 5-on-3 power play late in the first period and Toews scored with 4.2 seconds remaining in the opening frame to give Chicago a 2-1 lead.

Outside of Toews' first goal of the game, the power play was a bit of a disaster. After converting on three of six power plays in Game 1, the Hawks went 0-for-4 in Game 2. With some elite scorers on the Oilers looking to avoid elimination on home ice in Game 4, it's an area the Blackhawks need to improve in quickly. It'll also be needed down the road if they advance.

The Blackhawks went 1-for-3 on the penalty kill, but allowed an Oilers' power-play goal that was costly at the time.

The Hawks failed to kill an Alex DeBrincat penalty late in the second period when Connor McDavid scored with 7.8 seconds remaining in the frame to put Edmonton up 3-2. It was McDavid's fifth goal of the series. He's scored a power-play goal in each qualifying-round game.

What's a Maatta you?

Blackhawks defenseman Olli Maatta scored at 9:14 of the first period to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead. The play has Maatta riding a two-game goal streak and it was the first time in the series the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game.

Maatta got beat, committing to cover Leon Draisaitl for the Oilers' late second-period power-play goal, allowing McDavid to convert. Maatta closed the game with one goal, one assist and a +/- rating of 0.

Leon, the Professional

Draisaitl haunted the Hawks prior to their comeback with two goals and assist in Game 3 after he was held shotless in Game 2.

The NHL's leader in points (110) during the regular season tied the game 1-1 28 seconds after Maatta scored in the first period and made it 2-2 at 4:07 of the second period. 

Draisaitl had a power-play goal and two assists in Game 1.