Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Let the Buildup Begin

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Hawk Talk: Let the Buildup Begin

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
5:51 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

One team, the Chicago Blackhawks, has its sights set on a Stanley Cup. Meanwhile the Vancouver Canucks have been pointing all season long toward upending Chicago in a postseason rematch.

Despite these differing goals, the second straight semifinals matchup between the Blackhawks and Canucksespecially when taking into account the regular-season hijinks between the teamsshapes up to be a high-flying, hard-hitting affair. Whichever club advances to the Western finals could well end up drained and dead on their skates.

And yet players on both sides are chomping at the bit for Hawks-Nucks, Mach II.

These are the rivalries you love, Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. Theres not a lot of love lost between us.

It was a lot of fun last year, said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, without a single word spoken through gritted teeth. Whats that they say about familiarity, it breeds contempt? Thats about it.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews even allowed himself some rare levity when speculating about the Chicago-Vancouver rematch.

Were going to have a lot of fun with the series, Toews said. "We can put our experience last year to good use.

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa broke into a smile when talking about the rivalry between the two teams, even though hes yet to participate in a Hawks-Nucks playoff battle.

I watched the other playoff games last year when I wasnt playing for the Detroit Red Wings, Boss Hoss said. I could see how tough it was. It was that way in this regular season, too.

Last years playoff battle, won by the Blackhawks in six games after dropping two of the first three, certainly had interesting moments, including gilded Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo tearing up in the Vancouver locker room after the Blackhawks romp to clinch the series in Game 6. But the 2009-10 regular season is whats truly upped the ante.

Among a flurry of interesting statistics and trends, two violent episodes from this seasons Chicago-Vancouver matchups leap out.

The first and most infamous was Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchells crushing check on Toews after being sprung from the penalty box in the third period of two teams first tilt, at the United Center on Oct. 21. Mitchell decked the unaware Captain flat, leaving Toews dazed and barely able to skate back to the Chicago bench. The Blackhawks would lose the game late, and the Big Red Cheese would end up missing six games with a concussion due to Mitchells hit. Ironically, just three months later Mitchell himself suffered a violent concussion in a game vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins and has been sidelined since.

The other episode, a more sustained and humorous bit of controversy, is the Andrew Ladd-Ryan Kesler feud. Kesler had apparently been spoiling for a fight with Ladd since receiving a supposed cheap shot from the Chicago winger in the 2009 playoffs. But when the two squared off at the GM Place on Jan. 23, Ladd decked Kesler with a quick left cross, breaking his nose. Curiously, Kesler chose to advance the controversy by calling Ladd a coward after the game. Theories abounded that Kesler was more injured by Ladds tauntingquickly pointing to the welts he delivered to the centers facethan by the punch itself. In Marchs season series finale at the United Center, Ladd took a run at Kesler right away, but on advice of teammate counsel, Kesler demurred.

You media are probably going to have a lot to ask Kesler and Ladder this year, right? Toews asked, breaking into his version of a guffaw, a wry smile.

Kesler himself is trying to laugh at the controversy. You had to bring that one up, did you? he asked the Vancouver Sun on Monday. Im not too worried about Ladd. Im more worried about winning the series and trying to get even that way Its a team game, and were focused on the main goal here. There are no selfish guys on this team who are going to try to close up an individual battle and make the team suffer.

Kesler doesnt only claim no hard feelings, but over the past couple of months since last meeting the Blackhawks has developed a grudging admiration for Ladd. Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Ladd is a guy who plays hard, he told the Sun. I dont think there is any rivalry there. Whats done is done. We fought and thats the end of it.

Luongos heartfelt reaction to, in his words, letting my team down in a 7-5 Chicago romp in Game 6 last year is another famous moment in the Vancouver-Chicago rivalry. But the Olympic goal-winning netminder fueled the flames a bit back in February, after his Canadian club knocked off the U.S. in the gold medal game. In the handshake line, Luongo reminded Patrick Kane that hed be looking forward to exacting revenge in the playoffs.

Kanes first career hat trick came in that Game 6 clincher vs. Luongo, and the ace has had his share of troubles over the years vs. the Blackhawks.

Contrary to common conception, Luongo has a terrific track record against Chicago in the regular season. Over the past four years, the netminder is 10-5-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage against the Hawks. Of course, some persistent concerns may be in the goalies mind as he skates into the crease for Game 1 at the United Center: His poor performance in last years postseason (23 goals in six games), and getting shelled for five goals on 14 shots in the first period of the teams most recent meeting, a 6-3 Chicago win on March 5.

Even worse for the gold-medal winner is that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has shifted his lineup in anticipation of the highly-skilled Canucks. Cool Hand Q has bumped the burly Dustin Byfuglien back to forward from the blue line, where he is expected to play the same pesky, physical role in front of Luongos blue ice he did, to raves, a season ago.

For a team not necessarily known for physical play, the Blackhawks did a marvelous job pestering Luongo last season.

I thought the Chicago series last year was the most Ive ever seen for guys going to the net and falling on the goalie, Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa told The Province.
I know its part of the Blackhawks game plan for sure, but Ive got to deal with it, Luongo added. I dont have a problem with that. Its a challenge for me, and I look forward to challenges like that.

And it wont just be Big Buff, who took in Tuesdays team practice not as a point on the power play but at long last back in front of goal, tangling Luongos long locks in the semis. Count on Adam Burish, Ladd, Tomas Kopecky, Bryan Bickell and Troy Brouwer all to buzz the goalie with drive-bys.

Heading into this titanic tilt, the bluster from both dressing rooms will be in full force. As Quenneville said, Im sure it wont take long to rekindle the animosity.

And once animosity has been raised to threatening levels, the reporting of every last deal stemming from the soap opera that is Blackhawks-Canucks will begin.

As soon as someone breaks their fingernail, it becomes a story, noted Toews, once again as jocular as youll find him. The players even talk to each other about that.

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

Four takeaways: Jets win in overtime, but Blackhawks building momentum

Four takeaways: Jets win in overtime, but Blackhawks building momentum

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center on Friday:

1. Top guns lead the charge for Jets

The Jets are one of the best teams in the NHL because they're absolutely loaded up front and get their scoring from everywhere. The Blackhawks know this of their Central Division foes and after seeing them for the third time in two weeks.

On Nov. 29, it was Nikolaj Ehlers who had a hat trick. On Tuesday, Kyle Connor had a two-goal night. On Friday, it was Mark Scheifele (two goals, one assist) and Blake Wheeler (three assists) leading the way for the Jets with three-point efforts. The top guys have been a thorn in the Blackhawks' side this season, with Scheifele scoring the game-winner 50 seconds into overtime for their third victory against Chicago in 15 days.

"You can play really well against them for 58 minutes, but it only takes just an instant and then it’s in the back of your net," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "That’s something that we gotta learn, to play against those guys and in those situations if you’re going to be able to go head-to-head. A lot of it we were really good, we had let downs and it made it tough for us. But we did a lot of good things."

2. Last-minute goals

In all three periods, there were last-minute goals that changed the flow of the game. 

After the Jets took a 1-0 lead in the first period, Jonathan Toews responded for the Blackhawks with 10.2 seconds left to even it at 1-1. In the second, Mathieu Perreault scored on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box with 18 seconds remaining to put the Jets back in front 3-2. And then in the third, Erik Gustafsson tied it at 3-3 with 7.5 left to force overtime. 

"It's tough after a loss in overtime, but it felt good," said Gustafsson, who missed the previous two games with an illness. "I didn't know it was 7 seconds left, but it was good to see it go in. ... It was good to be back here with the team, too. I wasn't in the last game. We came out hard the first period and I think we played a solid 60 minutes. Tough break in the overtime."

3. Captain Consistency

Toews usually produces on the scoresheet in spurts. Historically, he'll go through stretches where his offense dries up for several games in a row. And then he'll follow that up by getting really hot. This season has been different.

The Blackhawks captain's longest point drought this year is three games. After scoring two more goals, his season total is up to 16 through 34 games, taking over the team lead from Patrick Kane. He had 20 goals in 74 games last season, showing just how far he's come from a year ago.

Toews is on pace to finish with a career-high 39 goals — his current personal best is 34, set in 2008-09. The Blackhawks need him to continue producing at that rate, and there's no reason he can't.

"Our line played well and created a lot of chances," Toews said. "If it's me scoring or [Dominik Kahun] or [Brandon Saad], it doesn't really matter. As long as we're making plays when we've got the puck out there, we're happy about that."

4. Jets power play stays hot

The best advice when you play the Jets: Stay out of the penalty box. Because they'll make you pay.

Entering Friday, they had the top-ranked power play with a 30.4 percent success rate. The Blackhawks gave them three opportunities and they cashed in on one, giving them eight power-play goals on 17 attempts in their past four games (47.1 percent conversation rate). They also improved to 5-for-11 (45.5 percent) in three games against the Blackhawks.

To the Blackhawks' credit, they killed off two key penalties in the third period before the first TV timeout and it allowed them to keep it a one-goal game and ultimately force overtime by scoring the next goal.

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Dylan Strome the key to the Blackhawks success?

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AP

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Dylan Strome the key to the Blackhawks success?

SportsTalk Live hits the road. Jimmy Greenfield and Scott King join Kap at Queenie's Supper Club and Cocktails at the United Center.

0:00- Pat Boyle joins the panel to discuss the Blackhawks' much-needed win over the Penguins and look ahead to what young players will be key when the Hawks compete for a playoff spot once again.

5:00- It's a big game for the Bears Sunday night. The guys debate whether or not the Beloved can finally beat Aaron Rodgers at Soldier Field to clinch the NFC North?

8:00- Will Perdue joins the panel to talk about the state of the Bulls. He discusses the Jabari Parker trade rumors, the Bulls leadership committee and the former NBA champ gets emotional when he talks about how the Bulls dysfunction affects him.

21:00- Patrick Sharp joins the guys to talk about the Blackhawks' mindset to end their 8-game slide and tells the guys why Dylan Strome may be the key to the Blackhawks success in the future.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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