Blackhawks

Blackhawks putting pressure on Blues as series continues

Blackhawks putting pressure on Blues as series continues

The defending Stanley Cup champions are always the hardest team to eliminate from the playoffs.

It's especially difficult for a team like the St. Louis Blues looking to break through in the postseason by putting away their division rival in the first round.

They have three chances to do it, and they nearly capitalized on the first one but fell short in a double-overtime loss to the Blackhawks in Game 5 on Thursday night.

The Blues are down to two more strikes, and they want to make sure to avoid reaching the final one. 

"There’s no doubt that the longer this series goes, the more pressure will be on that team," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "But at the end of the day, they’re as hungry as ever. I don’t think if you ask any of them, they’ll say that any of that matters.

"It’s focusing on what we know we can do. It’s not worrying about anything beyond tomorrow night. The way we went into last night’s game, we told ourselves we just have to play one shift at a time and find a way to win tonight.

"It’s probably going to be another one-goal game the way we saw, a big winner by (Patrick Kane) there yesterday. Tomorrow’s the same thing. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We’ll just focus on exactly what we need to do shift by shift."

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This comes less than 14 hours after the Blues displayed some confidence of their own that they will be able to come into Chicago and knock the Blackhawks off for a third straight time in Game 6 on Saturday night.

"It's going to be fun here to win it in Chicago," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said after Thursday's game. "That's the game plan right now. Their backs are still against the wall. We've all got to flip the switch and get ready for Saturday."

While it may come across as overly confident, this is the type of different determination the Blues appear to have this spring as opposed to years past that Toews acknowledged on Friday.

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The Blackhawks have had that for a while, and don't think winning three Stanley Cups makes this team any less hungry to win another one.

They've been there. They've done that. 

The Blues are the ones looking to capture their first title in franchise history, and the Blackhawks surely won't make it easy on them.

"Yeah, I agree," Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson responded when asked if the pressure gets warmer on the Blues as the series goes deeper. "Just looking at the past, I think the team had a lot of pressure to make it past the first round.

"We're still very hungry to go on a deep playoff run here. We're not satisfied in any way with what we've accomplished in the past. It's all about now and it's all about what we're going to do about this year and not what we've done in the past as I said.

"I think they're feeling the pressure, but we just have to take one game at a time here and we got to bring a better game than we've done here at home. We have to get a win."

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”