Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Top two seeds shall meet in the West

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Hawk Talk: Top two seeds shall meet in the West

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
11:57 PMBy Chris Boden
CSNChicago.comSAN JOSE --- Now that I'm "stuck" here in NoCal for a few days as we await the start of What's Next, there's finally a chance to pitch in again here on the ol' InterWeb. Not that you've been holding your breath in overwhelming anticipation, but most of the past month's been about racing to and from Centers, Arenas, Places, airports, hotels, restaurants, CSN, or - in the rarest of cases - home. And whenever I show up there, it seems every time, the grass needs to be cut. Again.The Blackhawks are halfway home to their One Goal - same thing that we said this time a year ago after dispatching of the Canucks. This long season that began in Antti Niemi's homeland now has just 14 games left, tops.This team has made its mistakes, and has its games here and there where you wonder if they were just bored, or taking things for granted. That usually seems to come when they happen to have some wiggle room. We've all done it. It's part of growing up, and we've all done it in our lives at work, in relationships, or any day-to-day routine. Unfortunately, the money athletes make doesn't keep them from human nature within their games. I've been covering the Hawks in varying degrees for almost 30 years, and can't remember one team that hasn't admitted after head-scratching performances that effort, focus, and the mental edge were lacking. So things like games one and five against Vancouver, and games one and three against Nashville happen. They've prevented it from steamrolling into something bigger, which teams like now-ex-champion Pittsburgh and Washington (versus Montreal) and Boston (against Philadelphia) haven't been able to do.The Hawks' talent, depth, and confidence (and yes, maybe even cockiness) has helped keep them on an even keel through all the dips in this roller coaster ride, and they've always managed to respond. I can't say for certain there have been no screaming or yelling incidents in their room at any point this season after losses. I can say for sure there have been few, if any. It's kind of a reflection of their young captain's personality. To this point, these players and this coaching staff know through their skill and versatility that any adjustments they need to make can work if they buy in to it. That often happens the very next game. "Exhibit A" was Tuesday in Vancouver , which just might've been their best game of these playoffs, and took advantage of a Canucks team beginning to feel a physical toll.All season long, the team I thought would provide the Hawks the most difficulty in a playoff series would be a healthy Detroit team, as they proved in the final two regular season meetings at the United Center. I'm still glad going in for the Hawks' sake it's the Sharks, and not a second straight Western Final versus the Wings (who spoiled the opportunity for the Hawks to have home ice advantage in this series). But how San Jose knocked them out certainly opens your eyes - winning the first three, getting blown out in Game 4, and, just when many of us looked for another post-season meltdown, delivering a gritty knockout punch last Saturday night.The players whose puzzling post-seasons past cast doubt on their ability to win finally came through in the clutch. Thornton, Marleau, Nabokov. The secondary scoring Doug Wilson's team so desperately needed heading into this year actually became their primary scoring to get them past Colorado. And just when everyone thought "Here We Go Again" when they put the puck in their own net in overtime of Game 3 against the Avalanche, they formed a backbone and mental toughness, resulting in seven wins in their last eight. So far at home, they've been the exception to the rule this post-season, winning five straight since dropping the opener.While Jonathan Toews has starred since Game 3 against the Preds, it was the Hawks' depth Tuesday that finally broke Vancouver: Bolland, Brouwer, Versteeg, Byfuglien.Depth is vital the deeper you go. Sounds like a Yogi-ism. But it's good for a thicker, longer beard.

And a final P.S.I wrote how banged-up the Canucks were. So let's not forget the Blackhawks' unsung and often overlooked medical and training staff of Mike Gapski, Paul Goodman, Jeff Thomas, Pawel Prylinski, and their team of M.D. specialists. Except for the preseason surgeries for Hossa and Burish, and your occasional concussion, their players have remained unbelievably, physically resilient, eight steps from a Cup. A little luck's involved, of course. But the bulk of the roster has been able to go out and play every night during the grind. Much of the credit goes to guys behind the scenes who keep them going.

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

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AP

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

The Blackhawks are always active in the overseas market. Over the last few years, Dominik Kahun, David Kampf, Michal Kempny, Jacob Nilsson, Artemi Panarin and Jan Rutta are among the notable Chicago signings that have come from there. 

And they continue to be an attractive destination.

The Blackhawks have reportedly expressed interest in 24-year-old Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev and 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin, and the feeling is mutual.

Of the 30 NHL teams that have checked in on Mikheyev, TSN's Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday that the Blackhawks are among the finalists — although it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs could be the frontrunners. Mikheyev, who's 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, racked up 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 62 games this season for Avangard Omsk of the KHL, and tallied 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 postseason contests. His decision is expected to come this weekend.

Wedin has also reportedly narrowed his list, which includes the Blackhawks. He had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League, where he compiled 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 32 regular-season games and nine points (two goals, seven assists) in seven playoff contests with Timra IK.

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger is expected to make his decision either before or after the 2019 IIHF World Championship, depending on whether or not he plays for Sweden.

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Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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