Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Important back-to-back looming

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Hawk Talk: Important back-to-back looming

Thursday, March 10, 2011
9:08 a.m.

by Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

There were impressive displays of urgency (if not always 60 minutes of playoff-like intensity) during the Blackhawks eight-game winning streak. They'll need even greater degrees of that on Sunday and Monday, when they visit Washington and return home to host San Jose.

The availability of Brian Campbell and Dave Bolland will be in question. Campbell's lower body injury made him unavailable Wednesday in Tampa Bay after perhaps his best stretch of the season -- five points in as many games to lift him to an NHL-leading plus-28 on the season. Bolland had not only generated 22 points in his previous 24 games but had helped get Marian Hossa back on his game, before being on the receiving end of Pavel Kubina's cheap-shot elbow to the head early in Wednesday's game. It's ironic that Campbell could be unavailable against Alex Ovechkin, who ended his regular season a month early a year ago with his hit on Campbell from behind and into the boards. The Hawks also have yet to prove this season they can beat San Jose in general, and former teammate Antti Niemi in particular. It would be nice to have the proof they can, should a playoff date loom down the road.

READ: Three strikes by Hawks' top line not enough

That was an important point earned Wednesday, and very well could've been two if the NHL had followed its own shootout guidelines when it came to Martin St. Louis' shot. Then again, the Hawks have shutout in the shootout on the road this season. Yes, getting four points against the Caps and Sharks would be ideal, especially considering the possible health issues. But grabbing two to three points out of that back-to-back is of utmost importance when you survey the schedule beyond that. After Monday's game, the defending champs play just three games over the following 11 days, potentially getting passed in the standings by several teams in that stretch. Consider what most of the other Western contenders will be doing over that week-and-a-half:

Detroit and San Jose (already ahead of the Hawks) will play five times, as will Calgary, Los Angeles and Anaheim. While the Hawks still have three meetings left with the Wings, just one meeting with the Ducks remains from among those other four after Monday. Nashville and Phoenix will play six times over those 11 days, including a Coyotes-Hawks matchup in Glendale. The Hawks are done with the Preds, who'll play five times at home over the six they'll play. Dallas and Minnesota each play four games in that span, including the Stars' final matchup with the Hawks in Big D in a week.

Sure, the schedule will eventually even out when all's said and done exactly one month from today. But as we've been preaching before and during the hot streak that's positioned what's been a healthy Hawks squad in a good spot for the time being, continuing to move forward (unlike the puck on St. Louis' shootout attempt) makes the job later easier. But nothing really seems very easy, since no one in the West seems willing to stand still.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

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AP

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.