Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Work ahead for Hawks

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Hawk Talk: Work ahead for Hawks

Monday, May 24, 20103:37 PM
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.comAs seen in two previous playoff wins over the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks, the Chicago Blackhawks have practiced long-term vision on the 2010 playoffs.

Such thinking allowed for smiles and congratulations at the end of the clubs Western Conference finals sweep over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, but the realization ran rampant that the teams true goal is still four wins away.

The dressing room postgame Sunday was all hustle and bustle, but that was mainly due to a torrent of media let into the room to record the Hometown Heroes every reaction and memory. The players themselves were decidedly muted and reflective, particularly veterans like Patrick Sharp and John Madden, who were even more soft-spoken than usual.

We understand that theres been a lot of hype over this team here in Chicago, said Madden, a veteran of two Stanley Cup wins with the New Jersey Devils. Weve still got to focus. Whatever happens in the East, we go back to work in preparation.

Patrick Kane, speaking freely with the media for an extended stretch, fielded questions that ranged everywhere from whether the tension was palpable on ice (one third-period shot I let loose on so hard I thought I might kill somebody) to whether hell play his own NHL 10 video game to prep for the Philadelphia Flyers or Montreal Canadiens (Ive been playing Mario Kart like crazy, thats all the Blackhawks play). He also pulled back the curtain on how challenging the playoff grind can be, and how much relief a few days off could provide.

Im just going to relax, he said. Im pretty tired right now. Even the celebration takes something out of you. Its all emotionally draining.

The celebration -- too much of it -- can be a concern. Kane, Brian Campbell and other Blackhawks have admitted that last years team was a little surprised to play deep into the playoffs and were happy with earlier-stage success. But nine-time Stanley Cup winner and winningest coach in NHL history, Scotty Bowman, sees two sides of celebration.

It can work both ways, said Bowman, now a senior advisor to the Blackhawks. Youve got to keep your priorities in order, but playing it too straight doesnt work, either.

Strangely enough, the solemnity that Chicago is practicing today has been a hallmark of rookie Antti Niemis approach all season long. The ascendant star goalie has been humble to the core, refusing even to engage in so much as phone calls with family or friends back at home in Finland during the WCF (finally, now we can enjoy talking a little, he said with a smile after Sundays game). His game plan for the run-up to the Finals was par for the course.

I have no idea how long well have to celebrate the win, he said. We shouldnt be celebrating too long, though. Theres still more to play.

Not to say that everythings structured and planned out in Chicago. Game 4 and WCF hero Dustin Byfuglien was asked about Stanley Cup preparation before he had much of a chance to enjoy getting there, and his speculation was as good as anyones. Im guessing the trainers are going to have something going on, dont you think?

The Blackhawks arent exactly making it up as they go along, but playing into June is uncharted territory for this generation of Redshirts. And given the solemnity theyre approaching the Finals, poor preparation and loss of focus wont be their downfall.

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

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!