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.

Blackhawks are one of NHL's hottest teams, but have they turned a corner?

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USA Today

Blackhawks are one of NHL's hottest teams, but have they turned a corner?

For the first two and a half months of the season, the Blackhawks were battling through major inconsistency issues. They had won more than two games in a row just once and lost at least three straight five times.

And yet somehow, the Blackhawks still found themselves afloat in the Western Conference playoff race. 

But the tide has finally started to turn.

Since Dec. 15, the Blackhawks are 12-5-0 and have the fourth-most standings points in the NHL over that span with 24. They’ve also won a season-long five consecutive games and have a plus-13 goal differential during their winning streak.

Now, there are certainly some statistical trends that are unsustainable over the long term that could result in a market correction. Their on-ice shooting percentage (13.0) and save percentage (94.7) at 5-on-5 play during their winning streak is a combined 107.7, which is the second-highest in the league over that stretch.

But the Blackhawks are playing a brand of hockey that will win them games more often than not going forward: The top guys are producing, the depth scoring is there, the defensive structure has tightened up and the goaltending remains strong.

"No question,” head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he feels this type of performance will continue to lead to positive results. “We are being rewarded. There's no reason to get away from it. It's paying off and the more it gets into our mentality and our identity that this is who we are, and we'll do this no matter what, it's a habit and you don't think twice about it. We still need to work at preparing to approach the game that way, but when we do it's easier for you and you'll set up your teammates as well."

Perhaps the most notable part of the winning streak is the fact the Blackhawks look like a team that's on the same page after making an in-season schematic adjustment in November, on top of dealing with an array of key injuries. The Blackhawks stayed the course and aren't wavering from their game which we saw them do earlier in the season, whether they're playing with a lead or a deficit. 

Take Sunday's 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets as an example. The Blackhawks jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, gave up a late goal in the second period that cut their lead to 2-1, but punched back in the third period by scoring twice to pull ahead 4-1, which iced the game.

One month ago, the Blackhawks would probably find a way to squander that two-goal lead. That hasn't been the case over the last month and the Blackhawks are hoping this becomes part of their DNA.

"We're finally starting to full buy-in to the system," Blackhawks goaltender Robin Lehner said. "Full effort level, doing the right things at the right times. ... Everyone's just doing their job, and we're starting to feel [that] doing those things gets you rewarded and everyone keeps doing it. We're doing well, but we've just got to keep doing it because every point is crucial."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Jonathan Toews named NHL's Third Star of the week

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USA Today

Jonathan Toews named NHL's Third Star of the week

The Blackhawks (24-20-6, 54 points) are on fire, having won five straight games to vault them back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

Jonathan Toews has been key to that stretch, and on Monday, he was recognized for his recent stellar play by being named the NHL's Third Star of the week. Alex Ovechkin and Elvis Merzlikins nabbed the top two spots:

In four games between Jan. 14 and Jan. 19 (all Blackhawks wins, of course), Toews led the NHL in points with nine (three goals, six assists). And none of them were empty. Among myriad highlights was this game-winning slingshot to beat the Senators 3-2 in overtime to kick off the week (the 15th overtime game-winner of his career):

His two-goal, two-assist outing against the Maple Leaf days later was pretty fun, too:

Toews rides a six-game point streak into Tuesday night's bout with the Florida Panthers. If he extends it, he'll become the sixth player in Blackhawks history to reach 800 career points. 

The milestones and accolades are piling up for The Captain and, crucially, they're translating in the win column for the Blackhawks.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.