Blackhawks

Stanley Cup Final feeling never gets old for Blackhawks

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Stanley Cup Final feeling never gets old for Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews is one of several Blackhawks making his third Stanley Cup Final appearance. He’s played in many postseason games.

Considering how many lengthy playoff runs the Blackhawks have had, the grind it takes to get here, the shine wears off a little, doesn’t it? Well, no, actually.

“I think last night for me was one of the toughest nights to get to sleep because of the excitement,” Toews said with a smile on his face. “I’m sure a lot of the guys share that same feeling.”

[MORE HAWKS: Jonathan Toews continues to lead by example for Blackhawks]

Indeed, they do.

There’s something about this time of the postseason, whether it’s your first time going to the Final or your third time: you’re like a kid, brimming with anticipation, excitement and perhaps some sleeplessness. The feelings never get old and the Blackhawks, who will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 on Wednesday night, are experiencing them again.

“Not that I can’t believe we’re here, but there [was] definitely excitement after the Game 7," Patrick Sharp said. "It was tough to kind of relax on the plane and get to sleep when I got home. I remember the first time in 2010; we were close to winning, and there wasn’t a whole lot of pregame naps going on. It wasn’t great sleep at nighttime. It was so much excitement. I think the more times you go through it, the more relaxed you can get. But having said that, the excitement and energy is still there.”

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The Blackhawks enter this Final much like they did the other two: they have an idea of what the Lightning will bring but they’re not as familiar with Tampa as they are their usual Western Conference foes. It will be a challenge, for sure; some are comparing the current Lightning to the Blackhawks of a few years ago. And while the Blackhawks-Anaheim Ducks matchup was a physical series, this will certainly be a speedy series.

“They definitely have a lot of speed, you’re right on that; a lot of skill, too,” Duncan Keith said. “They have forwards who have real good hockey sense. They’re in the final for a reason. We’ve said it before: it’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a young team that’s going to be excited. We’re excited to have the challenge as well.”

There’s just something special about the playoffs in general, but especially about the Stanley Cup Final. A big reason for that is it’s so hard to get to this point once, let alone three times. The Blackhawks aren’t talking about their potential place in history yet; there’s too much hockey left to be played and, as Patrick Kane said after Game 7, “we haven’t done anything yet.” The anticipation will be there, though. So, perhaps, will be a few sleepless moments.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Western Conference Champs gear here]

“I love it. It’s what we dream about, what it’s all about, as a player or coach, is getting to this situation,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The best part about winning a Cup is the road [you take] to try and win it. You get to this stage, we put ourselves in a good spot, let’s get excited.”

UPDATES

- Quenneville said Bryan Bickell and Marcus Kruger are fine and will play in Game 1 on Wednesday. Bickell didn’t play from the early second period on in the Blackhawks’ Game 7 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. Asked if Bickell was hurt or just not playing well, Quenneville said, “we’ll say it was my decision but we’ll say a little bit of both.”

- Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk will travel with the Blackhawks and is expected to practice with on Tuesday. Quenneville said the team will gauge where van Riemsdyk is following practice. He added that he’ll keep all options open regarding the fifth and sixth defensemen spots.

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!