Blackhawks

LIVE: Blackhawks trail Canucks 2-0 in 3rd period

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LIVE: Blackhawks trail Canucks 2-0 in 3rd period

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.

Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks have plenty of recent rich history in their rivalry.

The past three seasons alone have included everything from hair pulling to body slams, name calling to calling out. Most important to any good NHL rivalry, the past two years it ended with Chicago knocking the Canucks out of the playoffs.

With a history like that, you'd think it would be easy to get players talking about each other before their first-round series kicks off Wednesday in Vancouver. Think again.

"You don't really need any more story lines," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who earlier this season accused Chicago counterpart Joel Quenneville of running up the score in a 7-1 November romp.

"Do you want me to do like that Jets coach here: 'it's between me and Quenneville?' No, there's a tremendous amount of story lines because of the history between both of these teams."

For all the bitter history, the focus going into the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series was how much these two teams have changed since last season.

Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup after eliminating Vancouver in six games in the second round for a second straight season.

But the Blackhawks were forced to shed 11 players to stay under the salary cap, including several key Canucks' antagonists, and needed help from Minnesota beating Dallas in the final game of the season Sunday just to make it back into the playoffs.

Meanwhile the Canucks, in part because of improvements made after losing again to Chicago, set franchise records for points (117) and wins (54) and became the first team since the 1977-78 Canadiens to lead the league in goals for and against while winning the Presidents' Trophy.

Listening to them talk about each other, you'd think each team was running the other's fan club.

The only disagreement was which team was the favorite.

"We're certainly underdogs in this series," Quenneville said.

Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo didn't sound quite as certain.

"Far as I know they're still Stanley Cup champs," he said.

Maybe so, but these are not the same Blackhawks that hoisted the Cup. Gone are goalie Antti Niemi and forward Andrew Ladd, who was once called a "coward" by Canucks center Ryan Kesler.

Big-bodied forward Dustin Byfuglien, who made life miserable in Luongo's crease, was traded, as was Kris Versteeg, who scored two game-winning goals in the last playoff series.

"They still have (Jonathan) Toews, (Patrick) Kane, (Duncan) Keith, and (Brent) Seabrook," Luongo said. "That's a dangerous team. They know how to win."

Especially in Vancouver, where the Canucks also host Game 2 on Friday before the series shifts to Chicago for Games 3 and 4. The Blackhawks won all three games in Vancouver last postseason, including a conclusive 5-1 victory in Game 6, and have a 5-1 record here the past two playoffs.

"Any mental edge would be thrown out the window the way the years have gone," Kane said. "But you always hope you have a mental edge and hope you are in the back of their minds that what happened wasn't a fluke and could happen again."

The Canucks say they learned from the losses, especially handing Chicago a run of power plays with undisciplined penalties in Games 3 and 4. They made changes to personnel, strengthening their defensive depth and adding grit up front. But the biggest adjustment was to their personality.

Just as they refused to repeat last season's talk about wanting to play Chicago and being eager for redemption, the players, led by former agitators Kesler and Alex Burrows, made a conscious effort to reduce trash talk to opponents and officials, something they learned from the Blackhawks.

"If you learn from the past there's a good chance the future will be different," Vigneault said. "We've proven a lot of things during the regular season and now it's our turn to try and prove it in the playoffs."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

A sneak peek at Cam Ward's new Blackhawks goalie mask

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USA TODAY

A sneak peek at Cam Ward's new Blackhawks goalie mask

It's a new year, new team for Cam Ward, who spent his first 13 NHL seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes before signing in Chicago on a one-year deal this summer. That means a newly-designed goalie mask is required to match up with his new team's colors, uniform and Blackhawks logo.

The designer of Ward's goalie masks Steve Nash, whose clients include 2017-18 Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck, two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick and three-time 30-win netminder Martin Jones, shared a teaser on Twitter of Ward's new Blackhawks-themed mask for the upcoming season and it's sweet.

Check it out:

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

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USA TODAY

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."