Blackhawks rookies ready for the bigger Stanley Cup playoff stage

Blackhawks rookies ready for the bigger Stanley Cup playoff stage

It was just over a year ago that Nick Schmaltz was part of the North Dakota men’s hockey team that won the Frozen Four, the school’s first NCAA title in 16 seasons. On Thursday the quest for another championship begins, as Schmaltz get his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs.


“Not yet. Maybe a little bit on Thursday,” Schmaltz said with a grin. “I’m sure it’ll be a lot different pace, a lot different atmosphere and a lot more intense. But I’m excited for the challenge.”

The Blackhawks rookies have played their parts well during the team’s regular season, from handling top-line duties (Schmaltz) to filling Artem Anisimov’s void at second-line center (Tanner Kero) to moving up and down the lineup and still scoring 19 goals (Ryan Hartman). Still, the big test awaits them Thursday when the Blackhawks open their first-round series against the Nashville Predators. It’s as pressured a situation as they’ll feel, but they say they’re ready for it.

“It has that feeling of that first game of the year when you’ve been off for a bit and you’re ready to get going again,” Hartman said. “There’s a really positive vibe in here and we’re all really excited.”

Outside of John Hayden, most of the Blackhawks’ rookies have had a full season to adjust to the NHL: The schedule, the travel and most importantly, what was asked of them on the ice. They’ve been put in pressure situations often and have handled it all. Considering that, coach Joel Quenneville has confidence in them come Thursday’s puck drop.

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“I think they’ve seen in all their growing up and in different leagues they know there’s a different level each and every year when you get to the playoffs. You’re trying to win a Cup, you’re trying to win a championship and there’s always another level that everyone tries to get to,” Quenneville said. “There are different ways you can get them that message but individually, these guys are aware you have to ratchet it up a little bit. Young guys or old guys, we’re going to need everybody.”

As for that Frozen Four title, Schmaltz said he can definitely glean some things out of that run to help him now. Still, it’s not the same.

“That’ll help with the experience but this is different. It’s seven games and a lot more intensity. In college it’s just one and done. It’s going to be a long series and a hard battle,” Schmaltz said. “Every game’s going to be different so we have to be ready for whatever’s ahead of us.”

If the rookies have any questions or concerns, there are certainly enough veteran ears to bend in the Blackhawks’ locker room. Patrick Kane said while playoffs are a grander stage, considering how the rookies have handled everything else this season they should be fine now.

“There’s definitely another level, no doubt. But I think you saw that, whether it was from coming in at the beginning of the season, from wherever they were playing, colleges, CHL… from preseason games into the regular season, they made that jump pretty quickly.  So I’m kind of hoping for them to do it again at the next level,” Kane said. “I think everyone knows how intense it is and how fast the game is, so sometimes these players that are young and come in have a little extra boost. So, kind of hoping to get that from them as well.”

The Blackhawks’ rookies have learned a lot this season. They’ve also contributed a lot. If the Blackhawks want to go far this postseason, they’ll need them to do both at the next level, too.

Blackhawks hit new low after epic collapse in St. Louis

USA Today

Blackhawks hit new low after epic collapse in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks needed something to feel good about going into a Central Division showdown against the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. A solid 60-minute effort would've sufficed, but a win would've trumped all, no matter how they got it. Two points translates into confidence and confidence turns into belief.

Well, both the Blackhawks' confidence and belief are starting to run thin after hitting a new low in Saturday's 4-3 loss.

For the second time in 10 days, the Blackhawks squandered a three-goal lead in the third period by giving up four unanswered goals in a span of 13:16 to a Blues team that, quite frankly, dominated the entire game. The Blues led in shot attempts (65-40), shots on goal (38-22), even-strength scoring chances (34-13) and even-strength high-danger chances (14-2), according to Natural Stat Trick, but couldn't crack a red-hot Corey Crawford until the third period. 

It was an epic collapse for the Blackhawks, who lost their fourth in a row and for the 10th time in 13 games. And there are no words to describe it.

"It shows where we're at," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We're not good enough in those situations. All we can do is continue to talk about and show the team and work together to make it better. That's the only way it gets better. We recognize the problem. We've got to find a way to take a step. I think we have taken steps at times, but it's not consistent enough."

The Blackhawks are a fragile team right now and you could see it in their body language from the opening faceoff, almost as if they're starting the game already down a couple goals. Can you remember the last time they opened a game by dictating the terms?

In dark times like these, your best players have to step up and take control and they did that on Saturday.

Brandon Saad scored twice, Jonathan Toews registered two primary assists, Patrick Kane ended a six-game goal drought and Crawford stopped the first 32 shots he faced before the Blues' third-period onslaught. And yet it still wasn’t enough.

Brent Seabrook and Toews — two members of the Blackhawks’ leadership group — were sitting at their stalls after the game awaiting the media and made no excuses. They accepted responsibility and acknowledged being in this position is unacceptable.

"Being out there in those situations, you got to take pride in it," Seabrook said. "I know I take a lot of pride in it. ... I know I'm on there for two [goals], the second and third one. It's a critical part of the game and I've got to be better in those moments."

"That sucks to blow that one with the lead that we had," Toews said. "But there's situations where we've got to get pucks out and I lost my check a few times."

So what now? Where do the Blackhawks go from here? Will it get worse before it gets better? 

Is the season even salvageable?

"Why not? One game at a time," Toews said. "We had a rough week. ... It's easy to look at the storyline and get really discouraged and come up with the wrong mentality in your mind about what can happen going forward, but it's the wrong way to go about it. We've just got to focus on tomorrow night and build off the things we keep doing well. Each guy has to look at himself and try to find ways to bring more out of himself every night."

The Blackhawks have been searching for answers all season and they’re not getting any closer to finding a solution. They’re getting further away from it.

A drastic change might be necessary, but the frustration stems from the Blackhawks knowing what the problem is on the ice and still not doing anything about it.

"We need to, when the game's on the line, buckle down, stop and start, make the right read,” Colliton said. “I know they know and I know we as a group know what we have to do to have success and it's just a matter of doing it."

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 4-3 against Blues

USA Today

3 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 4-3 against Blues

The Blackhawks lost 4-3 to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. Here are three takeaways: 

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead 

After Patrick Kane's beautiful stick-side snipe at 4:16 of the third period, the last place Hawks led the defending Stanley Cup champs 3-0 in St. Louis. It was going to be a huge moral victory for Chicago, who had lost three straight games and been outscored 10-3 in their past two. 

Twenty four seconds later, Tyler Bozak scored the first of four unanswered Blues' goals to give St. Louis their first lead of the game, and the final score in regulation, 4-3.

"Sucks to blow that one with the lead that we had, but there's situations where we've got to get pucks out, and I lost my check a few times," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after the game. "Those guys can make plays when you turn the puck over and you lose your check, so just got to keep going back to the drawing board."

Alex Nylander turned the puck over in Chicago's D zone to Robert Thomas near the high slot, who gave the puck to Bozak for the Blues' first goal of the game which sprung three more. 

“If we benched every player who made a mistake, we wouldn’t have any players," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said after being asked if he thought about benching Nylander after the mishap.

Shot suppression has to happen

As they've done a lot this season, the Hawks allowed the opposition way too many shots on their net. The Blues were able to pepper Corey Crawford with 38. 

"I thought we had a good start to the third, obviously," Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Crow was huge for us all night, really kept us in the game the whole game and I think we let him down."

Crawford and Robin Lehner have been leaned on too much this season by a struggling defense who's definitely missed Calvin de Haan (right shoulder) and Duncan Keith (groin) the past few games. Even before the pair's injuries, the netminders facing around 40 shots was happening too frequently. 

"We all take responsibility," Colliton said. "With the coaches, we have to find a way to prepare these guys better so that they can execute those types of reads when the game's on the line. So, that's it."

Colliton also said Keith began skating in Chicago. There's no set timetable for his return, but it should be sooner rather than later now. 

Saad doubles down

Forward Brandon Saad scored his ninth and tenth goals of the season in St. Louis on Saturday. His first goal came 19 seconds into the first period, assisted by Toews.

Saad's second goal of the game came 30 seconds into the third period. Toews used his body to maintain possession on the boards and feed Saad the puck in front of the net for his second helper. 

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