Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: How to Beat the Blackhawks

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Hawk Talk: How to Beat the Blackhawks

Friday, April 30, 2010
9:18 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Its the matchup that the Chicago Blackhawks are licking their chops over and the rematch that the Vancouver Canucks have endeavored a year to experience. No matter how you flip the puck, Chicago-Vancouver Mach II appears to be dead even. Here are 10 ways Vancouver can advance past the Hawks:

Dirty Work: The Nashville Predators were in many ways the antithesis of the Blackhawks, a team that had to scratch and claw for any advantage over the sublimely talented Hometown Heroes. That heads-down approach gave Nashville 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the series, and pushed the Blackhawks to within 14 seconds of an elimination game. Vancouver matches up much more similarly to the Blackhawks, a team so talented it may be tempted to coast. But Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault is a sharp cookie, and hes doubtlessly lecturing his charges on the advantages to pinning the Blackhawks quickly. Despite being almost an alter-ego to the Preds in terms of discipline and grit, if the Canucks can get the first punch in on the Hawks, unease again may set in for Chicago.

Push Their Panic Button: A Joel Quenneville team is normally immaculately prepared and motivated from the get-go, which made the malaise his team felt throughout the early stages of the Nashville series particularly perplexing. While an immediate Vancouver win in the series is probably not integral to an overall series win, the Canucks are coming into Chicago on an emotional high, motivated by a grudge held for a yearso any mucking up of Chicagos game plan could yield emotional riches down the road. Quenneville is a known tinkerer, and while his overhaul of the club prior to Game 4 of the quarterfinals yielded three straight wins and advancement, shuffling for shufflings sake still can take a toll on a team. If the Canucks can find a way to push Cool Hand Qs panic button early, it could leave the Blackhawks unsettled for the duration. After all, Quennevilles been known to switch lines or pull goalies at the first whiff of a gentle breeze.

On a related note, to everyones surprise, the Blackhawks admitted being ill-prepared and perhaps undermotivated after losses to Nashville in Games 1 and 3 of the quarters. If Vancouver senses any such lack of (in Qs parlance) compete level, expect the Canucks to swoop in and stomp the heart out of the Hawks.

Keep em Slippy-Sloppy: Normally cool and collected, Chicago was downright panic-prone in their own zone for most of the quarterfinals. Fortunately, Nashville was so offensively-challenged that numerous soft clears and sheer misfires failed to haunt the Hawks. Sure, Chicago was a team in transition at the blue line, with temporary insert Dustin Byfuglien feeling his way back into his own zone, but that sort of laissez-faire defense will absolutely fail to fly against Vancouver, who will bury every bumble the Blackhawks make.

A Little LuLu: No doubt, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo has had some struggles against the Blackhawks. Last years semifinals as a whole (allowing 23 goals in six games), and particularly the meltdown in a 7-5 loss in Game 6 that reduced the future Olympic gold medalist to tears, stand as stark examples of that. But even taking into account a five-goal first period in the regular-season finale vs. Chicago two months ago, Luongo has been very good against the Blackhawks. Over the past four regular seasons, Lu is 10-5-0 vs. Chicago, with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. He is more than capable of winning a couple of games on his own in this series, and with the shaky defensive corps in front of him, he may have to.

Play the Predss Way: While the Canucks fly just as fast as the Blackhawks and arguably boast a higher-octane offense, dont be surprised to see Vigneault pull a few Barry Trotz tricks out of the playbook. Vancouver went up 2-1 in last years semis vs. Chicago on the strength of a slightly buttoned-down game, and only when they strayed from that plan did the Vancouver lose its grip on the series. While the Canucks dont quite have the defensive chops of Nashville that would allow them to simply dominate the series from the blue line, they do have enough feistiness to bring the game right to Chicagos jawline. Based on how the Blackhawks wilted in the face of some of Nashvilles physical pressure, a bit of a brawling mentality could go a long way in the semis.
Attack the Antti-Dote: The Canucks are definitely drawing a line connecting Jonathan Quick, the Los Angeles Kings goalie who they eviscerated in the quarterfinals, to Blackhawks rookie cageminder Antti Niemi. Quick bears a lot of resemblance to Niemi, from physical size to playoff experience. The two netminders also leave the top shelf open often, so Vancouver, coming off its playoff-best 4.17 goals per game in the quarterfinals, is relishing having spent six games feasting on a Niemiesque netminder. In particular, the Canucks have made note of Niemis tendency to let loose rebounds and hope to make the rookie pay for any of his leavings.

Wonder Twins Powers, Activate: Vancouvers top line of the Sedin twins and Alexandre Burrows is more potent than any line the Blackhawks skate out, so potent that when Vigneault switched in Mikael Samuelsson for Burrows in advance of the Los Angeles series, that new formation became a postseason sensation, piling up 12 goals and 29 points in six games. That the top line, including Burrows or Samuelsson, creates interesting matchup challenges for Quenneville is an understatement. The Sedins have combined to compile 29 points in 31 games vs. the Blackhawks over the past four seasons and boast a combined plus-15 in that time, Samuelsson has 17 points in 20 games and played even and Burrows has scored 10 points in 16 games and boasts a plus-10.

Q cannot send his top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell out to stop Vancouvers aces, so the challenge will likely fall to the second swarm (Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky). Hossa has impressed all season with his two-way play, Sharp is an underrated defender and Kopy is the ultimate X factor, playing his best hockey of the season and powered by just a wee bit of crazy. But if the Sedins-led first line can win their battles with Chicagos second, the prospects for a Canucks upset increase exponentially.

Immovable Object Meets Unstoppable Force, Part 2: The Blackhawks more or less played even in the quarterfinals, when their meager power play took on Nashvilles downright awful penalty kill. It will be interesting to see how the penalty unit battle play out in the semis. Vancouver is coming off a .250 power-play performance vs. Los Angeles, so the days of Chicagos solid unit holding a team to one-of-27 in a series are long gone. On the flip side, the Canucks have been downright awful killing penalties, taking a middling unit during the regular season and putting up a howlingly-bad .615 vs. the Kings, the worst PK mark of the playoffs. So the Hawks take their .174 PP unit (yes, thats a slight dip from their regular season success rate) and find yet another balm in Vancouver, which has been running a Canadian fire drill every time one of its men finds his way to the box. If the Canucks can regain even their average PK capability and crack Chicagos air of invincibility when theyre defending its zone a man down, that will be another twist that brings a conference finals closer to Vancouver.

Muting the Volume: As a veteran club, the Canucks wont be intimidated by the United Center crazies, despite how much they despise the dulcet tones of Chelsea Dagger. Theyve won in Chicago beforeand in the playoffs, as recently as Game 3 last season. Another factor conspiring against Canuck intimidation is the fact that against the ineffectual offensive attack of the Predators, Chicago somehow managed to blow third-period leads twice in three home games. Vancouver might not be the most mentally sound club in the NHL, but recent historical results like those will breed confidence if trailing late in the Madhouse.

Bad Influence: OK, it might not be the nicest thing to say, calling the Couv a bit mentally weak. But the proof is all around, from physical tete-a-tetes to goalie meltdowns. Most instructive from a full-roster standpoint, however, is Vancouvers tendency to occupy space in the penalty box: The Canucks were 26th in the NHL in PIM with 15.5 during the regular season, reduced to just 13.8 so far in the postseason. Its a big if, but if Vancouver can shift from sloppy or dirty play to conniving creativitydrawing the Blackhawks into the box with fights or inviting retaliatory playsitll be advantage, Canucks.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Jack Hughes

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NBC Sports

2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Jack Hughes

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Jack Hughes

Position: Center
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from NHL.com draft expert Adam Kimelman:

The most talented player in the draft should be the first one selected. The 18-year-old has a package of skating, passing, vision and hockey sense that's reminiscent of Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane."

NHL player comparable: Connor McDavid/Patrick Kane

Fit for Blackhawks:

Listen, we know. Hughes isn't going to be on the board at No. 3. But let's dream just for one minute because when the Blackhawks jumped into the top-three on lottery night, the thought crept into everyone's minds.

Hughes is one of the most talented players to ever come out of the United States National Development Program, and is the most pro-ready out of any prospect in this year's draft. He could step onto an NHL team tomorrow and play in a top-six role seamlessly. 

Stylistically, Hughes' game is reminiscent of McDavid and Kane: A playmaker, goal scorer, smooth skater, unreal vision, high hockey IQ. He is the complete package. And just wait until he adds some muscle to his frame under the care of an NHL organization.

If the Blackhawks landed the No. 1 overall pick, their center depth for the next 7-8 years could've consisted of Hughes, Dylan Strome and Jonathan Toews. Alright, now back to reality. 

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GM Stan Bowman: Blackhawks 'unlikely' to trade out of No. 3 overall spot

GM Stan Bowman: Blackhawks 'unlikely' to trade out of No. 3 overall spot

The 2019 NHL Draft is 48 hours away from now and the Blackhawks are slated to pick third overall for the first time since 2006 when they took Jonathan Toews. Coincidentally, that draft happened to be in Vancouver. 

The Blackhawks are sitting in a unique spot this time around.

The consensus is that Jack Hughes and Kappo Kakko will go first and second overall, respectively, which essentially puts the Blackhawks in a position where they have the first overall pick in a different draft. There's a large group of players to choose from and there doesn't appear to be much separation amongst them.

So would the Blackhawks consider trading out of the No. 3 spot if a team wants to make the jump and the Blackhawks feel good about their player being on the board a few picks back?

"That’s a tough question to answer because it's not like we have a magic formula that we’re waiting for some to call and offer us," GM Stan Bowman said on Wednesday during his pre-draft conference call. "If somebody made a really appealing offer then we’d have to consider it, but that hasn’t happened yet. If it does, then as a group we’ll talk about it. That’s one of those things where a team has to want to put together a really appealing package to move up. It’s happened before, pretty rare though. So I wouldn't say it's out of the realm, but it’s unlikely to happen."

All signs point to the Blackhawks keeping their pick at No. 3, as expected. And it sounds like they already know who it's going to be, which isn't surprising considering the Blackhawks have done extensive research on the prospects — both on and off the ice — for months now.

The Blackhawks staff met on Wednesday a group, they'll meet again on Thursday, and then one more time on Friday before the draft to finalize their list. At this point, it's more about ironing out the later rounds.

"It’s more just fine-tuning the list," Bowman said. "We have more than just one pick in the draft. We’re looking at players we think are going to be around in the second round, and then we don’t have a third-round pick right now so there’s a bit of a gap there between our 43rd and then the two picks in the fourth round. So we have to look at that and determine which players we’re going to target for those rounds. I wouldn’t say there’s anything new that's being discovered at this time of year.

"We’re not going to be cramming last minute. I think we’re going to be very comfortable with the guy we pick when we get to Friday night."

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