Blackhawks

Teravainen has solid postseason debut with Blackhawks

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Teravainen has solid postseason debut with Blackhawks

NASHVILLE — Bryan Bickell has noticed the changes in Teuvo Teravainen’s confidence level, especially on the ice.

Gone is that kid who seemed hesitant or unconfident, characteristics that aren’t surprising for a then 19-year-old who was adjusting to so many different things, on and off the ice, at once.

“He’s more patient with the puck. Before, it didn’t seem like he wanted the puck but now it seems it’s finding him. He’s finding ways to get open,” Bickell said. “If I had the puck in situations I’d just try to dump it in but he has poise and patience with it and that’s what we need from him.”

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Teravainen’s handled his first postseason experience with poise, too, assisting on Niklas Hjalmarsson’s goal in Game 1 against the Nashville Predators. The 20-year-old Finn has been part of the Blackhawks’ fourth line for some time now, giving that group more of a scoring threat. His defense has been just as good, as he continues to mature into a strong NHL player.

Entering his first postseason, Teravainen said he wasn’t planning on changing a thing.

“It’s just playing smart. You can’t turn the puck over; you just have to know what you’re doing out there,” he said. “Maybe sometimes, don’t take too many risks and play smart defense. But when I get the chance, I’ll try to make some offense and play to my strengths.”

Coach Joel Quenneville was very happy with Teravainen’s postseason debut.

“His patience was out there against top lines a lot of the night, a lot of defensive zone starts, key face-offs. I just thought he had a real nice game,” Quenneville said. “He’ll get a little more comfortable with the puck moving forward. Everything happens so fast, it gets hectic out there. It gets more predictable with time and that only enhances his strength.”

[MORE: Blackhawks: Konroyd's keys to a Game 2 win in Nashville]

Teravainen was sent back to Rockford earlier this season because the Blackawks saw him as a top-nine forward, and at the time there was no spot for him on those first three lines. So now he’s on the fourth line. He’ll certainly move up in time, be it this postseason or next year. But this has worked so why not stick with it?

General manager Stan Bowman said it speaks highly of Teravainen’s abilities to take on this role.

“He’s only 20 years old now, but he has the ability as a young player to have the trust of the coaches in defensive situations,” Bowman said. “It’s unusual for a player of his talent to be trusted at a young age to play a role on more of a checking line. But he’s got the ability to make plays and bring offense from that role and he also gives you the play-making.”

Teravainen has handled every step of his NHL learning curve well. That includes the big stage that he’s on now.

“His progression has been exciting to see, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for him,” Bowman said. “We’re excited for him to get playoff exposure and he looks more confident with each game he plays.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."