Blackhawks

Now Blackhawks turn their attention to Predators

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Now Blackhawks turn their attention to Predators

Watch the first two games of the Blackhawks-Predators playoff series Wednesday and Friday on Comcast Sportsnet, with Pregame Live coverage beginning 30 minutes before the puck drops.

DENVER – The Blackhawks will look at their 82nd regular-season game for what it was: a pretty good game, sans a few of their top players, despite it being their fourth loss in a row.

But Saturday wasn’t so much about looking back as looking forward: it’s playoff time.

The Blackhawks closed out their regular season with their fourth consecutive loss, a 3-2 defeat to the Colorado Avalanche. It was another one-goal loss, this one coming in the last 33 seconds. But considering the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff path was set hours before this game and Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith took the night off to rest, the Blackhawks could live with it.

And now it’s all about the Nashville Predators, the Blackhawks’ opponent when the playoffs begin next week. Nashville hosts the first two games, with Game 1 slated for 7:30 p.m. CT Wednesday and Game 2 scheduled for 8:30 p.m. CT Friday. Games 3 and 4 are back in Chicago; Game 3 is 2 p.m. April 19 and Game 4 is 8:30 p.m. April 21. The Blackhawks haven’t seen the Predators since Dec. 29, when they had their final regular-season matchup in Chicago. The Predators also had a bumpy regular-season finish, going 0-4-2 in their last six games. But the Blackhawks say that means nothing.

“It starts fresh; everything’s even,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They had a great start to their season. They have a tremendousback end, they’re strong in net and have assets up front. Certainly they’re dangerous in a lot of ways. It’s a great year from where they were last year. It’ll be a great matchup.”

[RELATED: Blackhawks not intimidated starting playoffs on the road]

The Blackhawks should enter the first round in pretty good health. Brad Richards and Kimmo Timonen, who each missed these last few regular-season games with upper-body injuries, should be ready to go. The one wildcard is Patrick Kane (fractured left clavicle), who has been skating well and taking stronger shots but has yet to be cleared for contact according to Quenneville. Still, it seems Kane will join the Blackhawks sooner than the original timetable, which put him out until the Western Conference Finals.

Still, if Kane’s not cleared for this first round, the Blackhawks have to be prepared to play without him. They have to find a way to score goals, something they’ve been lacking down the stretch – five goals in their last four games.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoffs, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks will take their final regular-season game for what it was: a pretty solid game despite missing Kane, Keith, Toews and Corey Crawford, who was also given the night off to rest. They’ll start on the road and against a Predators team that has offense to go with the defense and goaltending they’ve had for years. Let the second season begin.

“Well, we know we’re facing an extremely good team,” Marian Hossa said. “They played very consistent the whole season. They have great balance and [they’re] very dangerous offensively. It’ll be a great challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”