Blackhawks updates: Kane ready, Vermette sitting in Game 1


Blackhawks updates: Kane ready, Vermette sitting in Game 1

Patrick Kane has done the skating, taken the shots and absorbed a few hits. Now to see if there’s any rust or if he’s good to go from the start.

Kane is back and Antoine Vermette is definitely a healthy scratch when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round series tonight at Bridgestone Arena.

The Blackhawks right wing, who missed the last seven weeks with a fractured left clavicle, said he’s not too worried about taking the punishment the Predators are likely to dole out. Coach Joel Quenneville said Kane will be fine. He also doubts Kane will be very rusty.

[Preview: Blackhawks begin playoff run on CSN]

“Watching him skate the last little while, he’s got a jump to his stride,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s excited about getting back for sure. Your top guys, you have to make sure over the course of a season you’re managing and taking away some minutes if you can. Him being fresh as a daisy over this stretch, I think that can help him. I don’t think it’ll take him too long to get up to speed.”

General manager Stan Bowman also figured Kane would get going quickly.

“I think he’ll get over that in a short amount of time,” Bowman said of potential rust. “In terms of taking a hit, he referenced it yesterday, he’s been dealing with people trying to hit him since he was eight years old. That’s nothing new. He’s pretty adept at rolling off pressure. A lot of it is just not putting yourself in position [to be hit]. He’s pretty smart that way. He’s always been a player targeted by other teams and he manages to get through it, so I think he’ll be fine.”

Predators center Mike Ribeiro talked about the task of trying to stop Kane.

“It’s a team concept on this side. That’s how you stop him, really, as a team,” he said. “When you play against the best in the world, you try to focus a little better against him and really take time and space.”

Michal Rozsival looks to be in tonight against the Predators. Kimmo Timonen, who missed the final three regular-season games with an upper-bodyinjury, is also expected to play.

And as expected from the last two days’ lines, Antoine Vermette is not playing tonight. Quenneville said the veteran understood when the two talked earlier today.

“It’s one of those situations, performance based, we made our decision based on the last part of the year. He was understanding of the situation,” Queneville said. “We know the depth’s going to be important as we go forward. At the same time, with his experience, I commend him for having the right attitude in a tough situation today. But our depth is something that can help pay dividends as you get deeper in the playoffs. We anticipate using him at any moment.”

[SHOP: Get the latest Blackhawks gear here]

Nevertheless it’s a surprise, not only because the center was acquired the stretch run, but also with the Blackhawks giving up a first-round pick and a defensive prospect for him. But Bowman also said not to take what happens in Game 1 as an edict for how the entire series/postseason will play out.

“We’re about to start Game 1 of hopefully a long playoff run. There’s a lot of focus, maybe too much focus, on Game 1 and the lineups,” Bowman said. “A lot of things change over the course of a playoff run, whether it’s certain players play or injuries or matchups or situations. It’s really too early to get too detailed on that. Antoine’s got a great approach, he’s excited to help whenever called upon and do his best.”

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.