Blackhawks

Hawks-Preds: Who busts out of late-season slump first?

niklas-hjalmarsson-pekka-rinne-0412.png

Hawks-Preds: Who busts out of late-season slump first?

The Blackhawks left Colorado not thrilled with the end to their regular season but certainly not demoralized by it either.

“We’ll be fine: get to practice and get excited about Monday (is) where we’re at,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “All four games, tight games, comparable losses.”

The Nashville Predators were probably feeling the same way, given they went winless in their last six regular-season games (0-4-2). The Blackhawks’ problem was they couldn’t score goals. The Preds’ problem was they couldn’t stop opponents from scoring them.

But as the two teams get set to meet in their first-round matchup later this week, the question is obvious: Which team shakes its late regular-season doldrums first?

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Now Blackhawks turn their attention to Predators]

The Blackhawks soon head to Nashville, where they’ll face the Predators in Game 1 on Wednesday and Game 2 on Friday. After another loss to end to the regular season on Saturday — a 3-2 loss to the Avalanche — the Blackhawks sounded relatively upbeat and ready to start the postseason.

Still, they know facing the Predators, who they haven’t seen since Dec. 29, won’t be easy. The Blackhawks have struggled to score goals, managing just five in their last four games. Now they get to try and solve Pekka Rinne.

“Obviously, the last four or five games here we haven’t scored enough goals, and it’s not going to be easier playing against Nashville,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We have to find a way to get people in front of the net more and get more rebounds and just more shots and just work him that way.”

For the Predators, giving up goals has been the problem. Whether it’s defense or Rinne, the numbers haven’t been good. Rinne gave up 14 goals in his last four regular-season starts, in which he went 0-2-2.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get a Niklas Hjalmarsson jersey right here]

So how much do late regular-season losing streaks affect a team? Quenneville said it doesn’t matter much at all.

“It starts fresh,” he said of the postseason. “Everything’s even.”

Well, maybe for some teams that’s true. Take the Los Angeles Kings last year, who went 1-2-2 down the stretch, lost the first three games to San Jose in the first round, then took off and won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Then there are last year’s St. Louis Blues, who dealt with injuries and a poor late-season record heading into the playoffs. They took the first two games from the Blackhawks, thanks to comebacks late in each contest, but then lost the next four.

If postseason experience is any benefit, the Blackhawks have plenty. Much like the Kings, they’ve usually saved their best for this time of year, regardless of how that last part of the 82-game schedule went. In facing a revamped Nashville team that’s hungry to become a playoff threat, the Blackhawks will need to tap into that same mindset now.

Neither the Blackhawks nor the Predators got the desired results these last few games. As Quenneville said, however, the slate is clean. Now we’ll see which team starts writing the more successful playoff story.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The Blackhawks' big win over the Capitals

hawks-stl-pod-121.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The Blackhawks' big win over the Capitals

David Haugh, Jason Goff and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Pat Boyle and Patrick Sharp drop by to talk about the Blackhawks' big win over the Capitals. Plus, Sharpie talks about the young Hawks who will be stars in the future.

12:00- Super Bowl LIII is set after a dramatic and controversial Championship Sunday. Does the NFL need to expand instant replay to include pass interference after a no-call cost the Saints a Super Bowl bid? Plus does the league need to change its overtime format after Patrick Mahomes didn't get to touch the ball at the end of the AFC title game?

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

Sports Talk Live Podcast

Subscribe:

Blackhawks notebook: Kane-Toews chemistry, Seabrook's contract, Crawford update and Smith's role

kane_seabrook_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Blackhawks notebook: Kane-Toews chemistry, Seabrook's contract, Crawford update and Smith's role

It's no surprise that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each had offensive explosions after getting put on the same line together on Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. But at the same time it was.

The duo played 273:28 minutes at even strength together last season, according to naturalstattrick.com, but had a minus-6 goal differential during that time. It was bizarre because they controlled 56.9 percent of the shot attempts and 60.5 percent of the high-danger chances.

Perhaps the hockey gods are repaying them for what they deserved a year ago. Or those are the results you're eventually going to get when you put two future Hall of Famers on the ice at the same time.

“For an offensive guy that wants the puck, he’s pretty much the perfect center to play with," Kane said. "He wins a lot of battles, he wins faceoffs, he’s obviously able to make plays and he can get to the hard areas, too, so he opens up a lot of space. We haven’t played with each other a lot over the past handful of years, but we played a lot together early on, so I think sometimes we just kind of revert back to what we did back then. It makes the game simple. It’s not like you have to think too much or even talk too much about what we want to do. We just want to work hard, win battles and play well defensively. If we do that, we should get a lot of chances.”

Toews turned the clock back before he and Kane were even in the NHL.

"I remember since we were like 12 or 13 playing against each other in Triple-A hockey, he was one of the smallest guys out there and he just seemed to be able to handle the puck so well even at that age," Toews said of Kane. "He could back defenders off and create time and space. He was tough to check because he was slippery and he was just deceptive. I think that's what sets him above everybody else in the league and most star players that maybe can take advantage of skating, size and speed where he doesn't really need any of those things. He's so smart when he gets the puck."

Whether or not they stay together for the long term remains to be seen, but the when Nos. 19 and 88 are clicking, usually the Blackhawks are too.

Brent Seabrook's contract

It's no secret in Chicago that Seabrook's contract sticks out as one that won't exactly age well for the Blackhawks under a salary cap system. At age 33, he's in Year 3 of an eight-year deal that carries a $6.875 million cap hit. 

While his best years on the ice may be behind him, his teammates believe Seabrook is still as important as ever inside the locker room and the team unity. Kane came to his defense on Monday after practice in response to a question about the core veterans trying to sustain a winning culture in a trying season.

"People want to get on Seabs about his contract," Kane said. "But to us, he’s underpaid [for] what he brings in this locker room and the way he’s such a great leader, such a big part of this locker room, takes in every guy just like he’s known him his whole life. He’s an unbelievable teammate. Even that game when we missed him when he was sick, you lose your heart and soul of the team a little bit because he’s such a big piece."

Corey Crawford update

Jeremy Colliton's playing career was cut short because of his concussion history. He knows exactly what Crawford is going through, which means he knows how to handle his situation from a coach's perspective.

Crawford skated with the team for the first time over the weekend, but Colliton cautioned not to read anything into it. He didn't provide much more information than that.

On Monday, Colliton offered a longer-form response on why he's been mum about Crawford's status:

"Him going on the ice, I said it two days ago, not to read too much into it. It’s going to be a process here. The day-to-day, it doesn’t really matter. It’s over time. Is he feeling better? Is he progressing? I’m not in his ear, 'How are you feeling?', asking [head athletic trainer Mike Gapski], 'How’s Crow feeling?' It doesn’t help me, it doesn’t help him and minute-to-minute, it doesn’t matter. It’s over time, how does he feel, is he getting better? Did I talk to him today? Yeah I talked to him today. But I didn’t ask him how he was feeling. Because day to day, it’s a non-issue. I just want him to be happy and over time, feel better. And then we’ll see if he can play at the end of that."

Barry Smith's role

When Blackhawks practiced wrapped up on Monday, Smith addressed the team in a huddle, got a stick tap ovation and received a handshake from every player. This was his last practice as the assistant coach, and Tuesday vs. the New York Islanders will be his last game behind the bench before Sheldon Brookbank officially takes full control of those responsibilities along with Don Granato.

After Tuesday, Smith will transition back into his role with the Blackhawks as Director of Player Evaluation.

"Certainly his experience and just his presence," Colliton said on what Smith brought to the table. "Great guy, very, very fun to be around. I knew him from last year, he’d been around Rockford. We were a little bit shorthanded and he left his wife and his previous life, lived in a hotel for two and a half months and was a great resource for me and the staff, and really appreciate that. He’s been through the wars already, so for him to come back into it was very selfless of him, I thought."

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.