Blackhawks

Blackhawks Notes: Bolland keeps rolling

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Blackhawks Notes: Bolland keeps rolling

Monday, May 31, 2010
3:06 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO You wouldnt think that in a Game 1 that featured 10 goals in the first 40 minutes that the Chicago Blackhawks would have thought to do any scoreboard watching.

But even in a game featuring four ties and three lead changes, as time started ticking short and a 6-5 lead had fallen in their laps, the Redshirts couldnt help but hope to bleed the puckand watch the clock.

As usual, Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg put one of the more humorous wraps on the end of Game 1.

Im looking up at the clock in the third and its eight minutes, 7:59, 7:58 he said. Im thinking, Im not going to live to see the end of this.

Defenseman Brent Sopel, already embarrassed over the unanticipated explosion of offense his blueliners allowed from the Philadelphia Flyers, wasnt counting the clock, however.

No way, I wasnt thinking we could just hold the lead and get out of there, Sopel said. I was thinking, Oh my God, whats going to happen next?

In a game where no lead is safe, there is no player who wants more to skate off the ice having stolen a win than the goalie. And Blackhawks netminder Antti Niemi, always honest after games, was itching to exit stage right: In the third, I was pretty much waiting for the end of the game.

Both sides anticipate a more buttoned-down Game 2 tonightbut that doesnt preclude some scoreboard watching once the team gets a lead. If youre at the United Center, bring those binocs and see whos gazing heavenward.

One guy who wont be is the chronically down-low Dustin Byfuglien. No line of excited questioning got Big Buff to admit he was hoping the clock would speed up at the end of Game 1.

The most the brusque forward would share about the end of Chicagos first Stanley Cup triumph in more than 37 years, in characteristic deadpan? The bench was pretty crazy.

Bolly Just Keeps Rolling
Speaking of deadpan Blackhawks, you simply cant rattle inimitable center Dave Bolland, who is hitting his stride at just the right time this season.

Offensively, Bolland has six goals through 17 games in the playoffs, equaling his season output (in 39 games). Two of those tallies have been shorthanded, including Saturdays first-period shortie that gave the Blackhawks their first lead of the Stanley Cup Finals. Defensively, the fifth-year man has centered Chicagos erstwhile checking line, (flanked by Kris Versteeg and, alternately, Tomas Kopecky or Andrew Ladd), making life miserable for forwards from the Sedin Twins to Joe Thornton.

But ask Bolland to chat about it any of his numerous recent accomplishments and, well, youre just going to get an aw-shucks grin and little elucidation. Heres the wordiest answers gathered from Bolly since media day:

On the relative mellowness of Game 1: It wasnt very feisty, I dont know why. It was pretty calm. Nothing really happened.

On his sudden, steely skill on shorthanded attempts: I dont know about that. I couldnt tell you what I was doing out there. I was trying to go five-hole on Philadelphia goaltender Michael Leighton, but I missed. It tipped off his stick and he let it in.

On Blackhawks coach Joel Quennevilles mentoring: Weve talked a lot. Hes helped me out when my speed or stick-handling wasnt there. Hed call me in, give me little pointers. His confidence was reassuring.

On what he watched while recuperating from back surgery during the season: DVRd shows like Nurse Jackie, Weeds, Californication.

The Human Soundbite
No one will ever confuse Blackhawks grinder Adam Burish with Wayne Gretzky on the ice, but the gritty forward is an All-Star in the dressing room, never failing to entertain with honest and unfiltered comments.

Today, Burish was asked about what the NHL can do to make hockey even more popular in the United States, and he ran off a number of answers, concluding with this assumptive gem: In what other sport can you punch a guy in the face or chase another guy around with a weapon in your hands?

Surprisingly, as dressing room time ran short it seemed Burish hadnt yet been asked whether hed sized up his series rival yet, a Philadelphian who hed target for extra checks, jawing andor fighting.

No, Ive still been trying, Burish said with a smile. Aaron Asham and I exchanged a few words after all the Dustin Byfuglien stuff in the first, but that died down. Im still working on it. The series isnt aggressive enough yet. But it will be.

Chris Kunitz on in-season coaching change experience with Penguins that led to Stanley Cup

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USA TODAY

Chris Kunitz on in-season coaching change experience with Penguins that led to Stanley Cup

In-season coaching changes are hard to predict in the NHL. There were zero of them last season, which was a rarity. This year, there have already been two so far (Joel Quenneville and John Stevens) and they're usually done for a similar reason: the group is underperforming and teams want to salvage whatever is left of the season.

Chris Kunitz was part of a mid-season coaching change as an alternate captain with Pittsburgh in 2015-16 when Mike Sullivan took over for Mike Johnston on Dec. 12 after the Penguins went 6-6-3 following a 9-4-0 start. It was probably time for a new voice there anyways, but the Penguins lost four straight games in regulation to start Sullivan’s tenure as coach. Things didn’t look great.

But it wasn’t because players weren’t responding. It was more-so the challenge of getting acclimated to a new system and unlearning old habits on the fly. That’s what the Blackhawks are going through right now with Jeremy Colliton.

“Some of the guys have played a different system and haven't played anything like this,” Kunitz said. “Being around the league, I've played in a system like this, I feel comfortable with the changes on the fly. But for some guys, it's not that natural instinct to do something different than they've been doing for 8-10 years."

In many ways, Sullivan and Colliton have a similar coaching style: play with pace, be aggressive on the forecheck, quick and clean zone exits. It helps having a guy like Kunitz in the locker room to help with that transition, for both the younger players and veterans.

Once the Penguins did get accustomed to the new system, they never looked back. They snapped that four-game losing streak on Dec. 21 and didn't lose back-to-back games in regulation the rest of the season. It was exactly what they needed. They went into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams — winning 13 of their final 14 games — and eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup, the first of their back-to-back.

Obviously, the 2018-19 Blackhawks are not the 2015-16 Penguins. But it provides a glimpse into how it takes time to adjust to a different system mid-season while also offering hope that it's not too late for a struggling team going through a coaching change to turn around their season.

"Any time there's something changing, guys want that 'why' or 'how does this affect what's going on out there?' Kunitz said. "It's easier if we talk through it as a group or with coaches to better understand why we're doing it and how we're trying to accomplish it and where the puck is supposed to be at certain times. Whenever we can just have that natural instinct to transition from watching it to doing it on the ice, that's when we'll have more success."

After going winless (0-2-1) in Colliton's first three games as an NHL head coach, the Blackhawks got back in the win column with a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night. They had been making progress, but weren't seeing the end result reflect that.

The Blackhawks got reinforcement that what they're doing is working so far, as long as they stick with it. If they continue to do that, the points will follow. And that's all they can control right now.

"It's starting to believe in yourself," Kunitz said. "... It's a process of understanding the system and getting to the right level of comfort with each other, but also going out there and outworking the other team. That's what it boils down to.

"With changing the systems, it's more learning and trying to educate yourself. Go out and practice, coach says keep it clean, have good passes and the results will come. When we go out there and we keep it clean in the D-zone, when we've come up the ice we've had good things, we've had success. Probably haven't scored as many goals as we should have, but in the end we have to work harder in our D-zone and when we do all that and put a complete game together, I know the end result will be there."

Four takeaways: Blackhawks blank Blues to end losing skid, give Jeremy Colliton first win

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks blank Blues to end losing skid, give Jeremy Colliton first win

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 1-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Jeremy Colliton's first NHL win

For the first time since Oct. 25, the Blackhawks are back in the win column. A weight has been lifted off their shoulders after going winless in their previous eight games (0-6-2).

But it was an extra special night for the Blackhawks, who helped Colliton earn his first victory as an NHL head coach and celebrated by giving him the game puck.

"I’m just here to help them," Colliton said. "So it's kind of awkward, actually. But I do appreciate the gesture and for me, it’s just, hopefully we can get some momentum going and build on it."

2. Corey Crawford puts up a goose egg

Going into the game, Crawford had a 3.07 goals against average and .901 save percentage, which are below average numbers. But he certainly hasn't played that way. He was often the Blackhawks' best player during their losing streak and has deserved better fate than he's gotten.

By stopping all 28 shots he faced, Crawford earned his first shutout since Nov. 4, 2017 when he made 24 saves in a 2-0 win over the Minnesota Wild.

"It's nice," Crawford said. "That's the goal, not let any in. But I thought everyone contributed to that. ... We've been waiting a while, kind of forgot what it was like to win there for a bit."

3. Power play breaks through

Finally. After an 0-for-10 drought, the Blackhawks scored a power play goal on their first try of the night and didn't need much time to do it.

Just 35 seconds into a Vladimir Tarasenko hooking penalty, Brent Seabrook cashed in after his shot trickled past Jake Allen and went in off a Blues defenseman's skate to make it 1-0 at 4:05 of the second period. It was the only goal of the game, proving to be the game-winner. 

The Blackhawks finished 1-for-2 in that department against a Blues team that came into the game with a 27.6 percent success rate, which ranked fifth in the NHL.

"It's a good feeling," Seabrook said. "It was nice to hear some music when they came in here after the game tonight. The boys are all fired up. The way we played going into the second period, being able to score a goal, hold onto the lead I think the way everybody played. Everybody stuck with it. Everybody stuck with the game plan. Everybody worked hard. It was a real team effort. ... It took all 20 guys out there tonight to get the job done."

4. Playing the right way leads to results

For six periods in a row, the Blackhawks have been either the better team or it was evenly matched. Giving up two power-play goals in 66 seconds to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday was basically the difference in that game and special teams played a major role in this one as well. 

Colliton felt like the Blackhawks were, overall, trending in the right direction despite not getting the end results over the previous three games. He got both against the Blues, which was fitting considering the losing streak started vs. St. Louis.

"That was the part of the package that was missing," Colliton said. "Happy for the guys to get rewarded. It’s not a lot of fun to see the results add up. Very happy for the group, they battled really hard, especially in the third when the game was on the line. We found a way to get some pucks out and win some 50-50s and got a couple saves and hopefully that relieves a little bit of the tension in the team and they can play a little more free. Because we’ve been talking about it, but it’s easier said than done."