Blackhawks

Five Things: Young Blackhawks playing with confidence

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Five Things: Young Blackhawks playing with confidence

Well, well, well, look who’s putting a winning streak together.

Remember how the Blackhawks were sputtering and trying to figure things out for the first month (or so) of this season? Seems like a distant memory right now as the Blackhawks claimed their sixth consecutive victory on Friday night, a 3-1 decision over the Buffalo Sabres. It was a close one until late — credit goaltenders Corey Crawford and Chad Johnson for that — but the Blackhawks once again got that late burst of scoring.

So before we call it a night, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ latest victory.

1. Congratulations, Phillip Danault. He was brought up to replace Marcus Kruger, and he’s done just that, albeit as the third-line center instead of the fourth. But Friday it was his offense that was critical, and his pretty third-period goal was the first of his NHL career and the game winner. Danault’s contributions don’t start with offense, but he couldn’t have picked a better time to score his first.

2. Niklas Hjalmarsson’s two-point night. We’re usually giving Hjalmarsson kudos for blocking shots, shaking off the painful ones and returning a shift later. On Friday, however, the defenseman got a goal and an assist for his second two-point game of the season (two assists on Dec. 8 vs. Nashville). It’s a rare sight to see Hjalmarsson score — it was just his second of the season — but he’ll take it. “It didn’t feel like I touched the puck, but as long as the puck goes in I’m happy,” he said. “It’s fun to score goals.”

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3. Erik Gustafsson’s poise. When the Blackhawks put David Rundblad on waivers last week it was to give this kid a chance. The Blackhawks liked him in his first go-around and wanted to give him the opportunity to be an everyday player. He’s playing that part well, and his first-period pass to Hjalmarsson to set up the latter’s goal was a thing of beauty. Gustafsson looks confident out there. Hjalmarsson agrees. “I wish I had that confidence when I started playing on this team,” he said.

4. Chad Johnson deserved a better fate. Let’s give credit where it’s due: the Buffalo goaltender was tremendous for the Sabres. He got beat on Hjalmarsson’s screamer and a Danault top-shelf shot. Johnson stopped 42 of 44 shots — the Blackhawks’ third goal was Jonathan Toews’ empty-net score — and gave the Sabres a chance.

5. Blackhawks are finding their way. What’s been working during this six-game winning streak? We’ll let coach Joel Queneville take that one: “I like what we’re giving up, which is very little. Our goaltending’s been solid. I think our balance on the back end and consistency up front looks like it’s improving. That’s what we’re looking to try to continue to do.”

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.”