Blackhawks

Rested Blackhawks prepping for physical Conference Final

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Rested Blackhawks prepping for physical Conference Final

The Blackhawks got back to practice on Sunday after two days away from the rink.

It was good to get a few complete days off, to check out mentally from the game. It’s also been good to heal any nagging bumps and bruises they may have received in the first two rounds. Because come the Western Conference Final, the physical aspect is going to increase.

Whether the Blackhawks face the Calgary Flames or the Anaheim Ducks — the two square off Sunday night, with Anaheim up 3-1 in the second-round series — the Blackhawks are going to face a more bruising opponent than Nashville or Minnesota. So getting a few more days to rest, heal and refresh heading into the next round is very beneficial.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: David Rundblad will replace Michal Rozsival]

“Calgary’s a hard-working team. That’s something they’ll try and bring. Same with Anaheim; they have a lot of big bodies, similar to LA last year,” Jonathan Toews said. “We can probably expect more physicality. Every series you see that rise, and it’s probably what we can expect in the next one.”

Now here’s the part that surprises us a bit: while the Ducks and the Flames usually play a more physical game than the Blackhawks, they’re not all that far apart this postseason. Entering Sunday night’s game, the Ducks have recorded 285 hits in eight games and Calgary’s landed 273 in 10 games. Chicago, which has also played 10 postseason games, has been credited with 282 hits.

Still, the two teams are more known for that physical style than the Blackhawks are. Not that it’s going to change the Blackhawks’ approach.

“No matter how you play them you’ve got to play the right way, you want to make sure you don't change the way you play. You’ve got awareness to what you want to do against them, but I don’t think you want to get distracted where you need to go to be successful,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think Anaheim, they've got a big team — they play hard, they play physical. Calgary plays maybe a little bit more up-tempo. But at the same time both teams can score and they put a lot of pressure on you. We’ll see what happens.”

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This is also just part of reaching this juncture of the postseason. Everything gets intensified, be it the level of play the emotions or the hits.

“You expect it to go up every round a little bit, the deeper you go,” Marcus Kruger said. “Both of those teams, they’re two good teams and physical. No matter who we play it’s going to be a tough series.”

The Blackhawks have gotten to this point in relatively good health — outside of the awful ankle injury to Michal Rozsival, of course. The Western Conference Finals will likely be their most physical test. This extended rest should prep them for it.

“We’ve played both those teams, good skating teams. Anaheim’s a physical team and Calgary’s got some players who are physical, too,” Duncan Keith said. “We’ve always been able to respond to those challenges, whether it’s physical or speed. We have to keep doing that.”

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.”