Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Keys to Beating the Blackhawks

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Hawk Talk: Keys to Beating the Blackhawks

Thursday, April 15, 2010
4:53 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Few pundits have given the Nashville Predators much of a chance to win their quarterfinal series vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. But the set shapes up to be much closer than people think. Here are 10 ways Nashville can advance past the Hawks:

Been Caught Stealing: Nashville absolutely must take Game 1 at the United Center. A win, be it in rowdy rout fashion or something more in the Predators style of smash-and-grab, accomplishes much beyond taking a 1-0 lead and nullifying Chicagos home-ice advantage. It would be the first road playoff win in 11 tries for the Nashvilleans, but bigger still, it would immediately cast doubt in the minds of the Blackhawks. The Hawks are no patsy and will not shrivel up in the face of adversity, as they proved in the first two rounds of the 2009 postseason. But given the contrast in playing styles, the Preds swooping in and mouth-punching away Game 1 while skating in the rowdiest building in the NHL would offer ample evidence that their style can and will win over Chicagos faster-tempo and puck possession. A decisive enough winsay, like Nashvilles Dec. 4, 4-1 triumph in Chicagocould also trigger panic in Coach Joel Quenneville, whos been known to switch lines or pull goalies at the first whiff of a gentle breeze.
Working for a Living: OK, its a ridiculous clich to spell out working harder as a key to victory. But in the case of the Preds, hard work is essentially all they have going for them. There are no stars of note offensively, the defense is tight but not led by a Duncan Keith-type of ascendant superstar and their goaltender might be called Miikka more often than Pekka this series. Crucial to a Nashville series win will be four lines of energytheres no way for the Sabertooths to outshine the Hawks in terms of sheer skill or playmaking. Outworking any team in the NHL? Now, thats a can-do.

Self-Defense: Nashvilles defense, let by Ryan Suter and Shea Weber on the top pair and second-tier support from Cody Franson and Dan Hamhuis, knows its going to be pummeled. Not physically, but by puck after puck in an endless stream of Chicago shots. The Blackhawks control possession of the biscuit better than any team in the league, and it wouldnt surprise to see Chicago outshoot the Preds by 10 in most of these quarterfinal games. But while the Blackhawks shoot a ton, their offense can stagnatewhen 20 shots have hit the crease but only ones poofed the net, pressure builds, defensemen cheat forward, forwards dig a little too long in the corners, giveaways garble the offense and mismatches in the Chicago zone may commence. If Nashvilles youngish corps can play standup D with patience, it will yield odd-man rushes and provide demoralizing chances and tallies.

Immovable Object Meets Unstoppable Force: While by no means the key to the series, it will be interesting to see what gives when the Blackhawks are on the power play. Chicagos man-advantage has been looking awfully five-on-fivish, steadily fading to black since the Olympics, dwindling to an NHL 16th-best .177 by seasons end. On the Nashville side, the Preds stop a mere .771 with their penalty kill, which finished poorest among playoff clubs and 28th overall in the league. Its a battle of bad to worse, and if the Preds pounce on Chicagos Brian Campbell-less unit to get off their PK schneid, its the sort of little thing that could help turn a tight series. The early returnsnamely Quennevilles insistence on keeping Dustin Byfuglien at the point rather than double-parked in front of the netmay indicate advantage: Predators.

Sound the Horn: Yes, the Predators have five forwards who topped 15 goals this season, but as the only 30-goal scorer on the team, Patric Hornqvist will be facing some enormous pressure to put the puck in the net. Its almost unfair to place so much offensive dependence on a 23-year-old, as the Hawks run out Patrick Kane after Jonathan Toews after Marian Hossa, ad infinitum, but this is the playoffs, and only the big boys advance. Hornqvist will also have to step up his production vs. Chicago: In eight career games vs. the Blackhawks, the right wing has just one goal and is a minus-two.

Pick a Pekka: Its a battle of inexperienced Finnish postseason goalies in this series, and arguments can be made the advantage goes to the bigger (65!), more experienced Pekka Rinne. Both Rinne and Chicagos Antti Niemi have had very strong stretch runs, but Rinne has authored four shutouts since the Olympics. More troublesome for Chicago is that Rinnes size makes screening him a true challenge. A lack of offensive rebounding30 one-and-dones a nightwill not get the job done against a 65 praying mantis in a goalie mask. Look for the Blackhawks to crash the cage hardand again, when they do, Rinne saves could lead to mismatches in the Chicago zone.
Muting the Volume: Despite its youth, Nashville has proven it can beat the Blackhawks at the United Center, and decisively. Contrary to popular myth, strong visitors play after first puck drop can mute the Redshirt crazies and mellow down the most rambunctious building in the league.

Trapper Keeper: Nashville is a trap team, and if theres been a style of play that has given Chicago any sort of consistent trouble, its that kind of puckhawking. The argument can be made that the Hometown Heroes beat themselves more often than any opponents style stymies them, but it cant be denied that trapping teams give the Blackhawks bunchy underwear. If Nashville controls neutral zone play, its upset city.

Keep it Clean: The Preds are a physical team, yet led the league with just 8.7 penalty minutes per game. If that sort of controlled aggression can be maintained under the bright lights of the postseason, it will give Nashville another key advantage over a Chicago team that isnt afraid to play physical pucksbut doesnt always do so smartly.

Make-Believe: The season series was not as one-sided as a 4-2 Blackhawks advantage would have you believe. Chicago outscored Nashville just 15-12 in the six games, and if the first two contests of the season are tossed outa big if, but only in the last four did the Sabertooths accurately imitate their current style of roughneckingthen the advantage shifts down to the southern boys, 11-10. The two teams split the final four games. An upset in this quarterfinals series is not a pipe dream where fans will be forced to believe in miracles to process what theyre seeingwhat makes this a terrifying opening draw for Chicago is that the difference between the two clubs is razor-thin.

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

Artemi Panarin thought he'd play whole career with Blackhawks

Artemi Panarin thought he'd play whole career with Blackhawks

The honest truth is that for the Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is the one that got away. A new truth, perhaps harder to swallow, is that the "Breadman" never wanted to leave.

Following Wednesday night's 6-3 Hawks' loss to the Rangers, in which Panarin scored his 30th goal of the season, he told the Daily Herald's John Dietz that he expected to play his entire career in a Blackhawks sweater.

"When I played here in Chicago I [thought] I would play here my whole life," said Panarin, whose 79 points are good for fifth in the league this season. "And then that happened. It still confuses me."

Panarin, now 28, had 151 points (61 goals, 90 assists) with Chicago in two seasons after signing a free-agent contract on May 1, 2015. The winger previously played in the Kontinental Hockey League before winning the Calder Trophy in 2016 as the NHL's top rookie. 

Panarin immediately established an undeniable chemistry with Patrick Kane, which aided Kane in grabbing the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP in 2016.

"Obviously an amazing player, a player that you'd pay to watch play the game," Kane said of Panarin. "Still try to stay pretty close with him and stay in contact and just kind of catch up here and there throughout the season."

During his second season with Chicago, Panarin agreed to a two-year $12 million contract, he could have gotten more elsewhere. 

In June 2017, the Blackhawks traded the dynamic winger to the Columbus Blue Jackets, along with forward Tyler Motte and a draft pick, to re-acquire Brandon Saad and get goalie Anton Forsberg and a pick. 

"I was not ready for that," Panarin said. "It was a big surprise for me. I feel bad after trade."

Now, the man of bread is locked up for six more years after this one with the Rangers at an AAV north of $11.6 million and his contract has a no movement clause. 

"I love Chicago," Panarin said. "Nice every time I come here. Enjoy it. It's a great city and thanks [to] the fans for a warm welcome. I appreciate it."

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Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Effort has not been a major concern for the Blackhawks this season. For the most part it's been there, and you could see it over the last two months when they started to string together a run.

But Wednesday, it was.

The Blackhawks didn't have a great first period. They had a decent second. Things went off the rails in the third. 

The Blackhawks lost focus, and the compete level wasn't nearly where it needed to be in their first home game in exactly two weeks after giving up five third-period goals, four of which came in a span of 7:08.

"Makes you angry," head coach Jeremy Colliton said following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers. "Because it's a game that you're looking for like, we needed this game. We didn't do the things right from the start to put ourselves in the best position to win. We just didn't have enough guys ready to play."

The Blackhawks picked up two out of a possible 10 points on their five-game road trip in Western Canada, but that wasn't necessarily indicative of how they played. All five games were there for the taking but they squandered opportunities to do so. A power-play goal here or there could've been the difference, but instead their drought is now up to 0-for-17 in their past six games.

It was a tough road trip for the Blackhawks, not just because they didn't get the desired results, but because it was a demanding travel schedule that started and ended in Winnipeg. But they wouldn't use that as an excuse even though it's a valid one at this time of year.

"To me, the story of the game tonight is, you're going to have games throughout the year where you don't have energy, where it's hard to find," Jonathan Toews said. "You've got to find the motivation to go out there and play your best game. It's just a mental thing that you have to do and that's just the name of the game, playing NHL hockey. That's one of the challenging things that if you want to make the playoffs and you want to be a winning team you're not going to feel at your best every night.

"There's going to be tough travel, tough schedule, a lot of adversity, things that pile up in your way and you've got to find a way to overcome it. So we didn't do that tonight." 

With Wednesday's loss, the Blackhawks fell to 1-5-2 in their past eight games after going 12-5-0 in their previous 17. They remain eight points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference but have four teams to jump, two of which have a game in hand.

Playoffs seem like a pipedream at this point, and you have to wonder how this latest spiral could impact the Blackhawks' plans ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline. It's always a challenging time of year for players, especially on teams on the outside looking in, but that doesn't mean it's time to wave the white flag.

"We have to think really short-term," Colliton said. "And that's tomorrow, how are we going to prepare? Because we didn't prepare well enough. The coaches have to do a better job of preparing the team, the team needs to do a better job of preparing each other, and individually they've got to do a better job of preparing themselves to play."

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