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Toews hasn't been 'this excited in a long time'

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Toews hasn't been 'this excited in a long time'

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Jonathan Toews was answering everything with a smile on his face on Thursday afternoon. A day away from the Chicago Blackhawks' season opener and fresh off a restful summer, Toews looked like he was mentally counting the hours until puck drop.

"I haven't been this excited to play hockey in a long time," he said.

It was a simple statement that said plenty, and he isn't the first to echo that same sentiment.

From their coach to their captain, there's a strong feeling of excitement and anticipation going through the Blackhawks right now. This is not last season, when the Blackhawks were battling a Cup hangover -- yes, it does exist -- facing a large influx of young new faces and figuring out where to put them all.

This year is different. There's no wondering who is going to defend the skill guys -- please see Jamal Mayers in his preseason debut. Everyone knows their role. The core players, the ones who won the Cup two seasons ago, are rested and excited about this game again. There are more vocal leaders.

Other than nursing a few early injuries -- and Dave Bolland could return Saturday night for the home opener -- the Blackhawks are feeling like they've rejoined the Cup contender talk again.

And as some of the core guys will tell you, the influx of veterans is helping plenty. Players like Sean O'Donnell, Andrew Brunette and Mayers have been there, done this. After having too many young guys take too much onto their shoulders last season, general manager Stan Bowman got the pieces he needed to fill those voids. This is an older, wiser group, and young players are already noticing a difference.

"They've been around so many games. They just add a calmer and more reassuring feel in the room," said goaltender Corey Crawford. "Our guys are confident, but a quiet confidence. We're not cocky in any way. We're just geared to go."

That rekindled confidence and experience should become evident early. Two of the Blackhawks' biggest problems last season were inconsistency and losing games late. With calmer heads out there, the Blackhawks need to start October on a higher note.

"Going into this year, there's definitely a different appetite a different attitude," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Getting up for the season's in place. The motivation is behind us as well."

The Blackhawks want to get back to where they were two seasons ago. Toews has said this team has the potential of that championship team.

He can't wait to find out for sure.

"Having some veteran guys who know what it takes to have everyone on the same page and having chemistry around the locker room, that's something that's going to help us for sure," Toews said. "Whether you're young or more experienced, everyone's as hungry as the next guy to win."

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Why Alex DeBrincat breaking out of scoring slump is important for Blackhawks

Why Alex DeBrincat breaking out of scoring slump is important for Blackhawks

Alex DeBrincat has been snake-bitten all season long. The scoring chances have been there, but the goal production has not and it’s been weighing on the 22-year-old winger.

But on Friday, DeBrincat reminded the city of Chicago why the Blackhawks signed him to a three-year, $19.2 million extension in October.

DeBrincat turned in one of his best performances of the season by leading the team in shot attempts (10), shots on goal (8), slot shots (6) and scoring chances generated off the rush (3), according to Sportlogiq. Most importantly, he had his first multi-goal game of the season, which included the overtime winner to give the Blackhawks their second win in nine games and first victory at home since Jan. 19.

"I feel like I’ve had a lot [of pucks] hit the post and gotten a lot of chances lately and they went in tonight," DeBrincat said following a 2-1 overtime win over the Nashville Predators. "It’s nice.”

DeBrincat is and always has been a streaky goal scorer, but this has easily been the most challenging season of his young NHL career. It’s the first time he’s faced real adversity at the professional level, going through 12- and eight-game goalless droughts earlier in the season.

In his rookie season, DeBrincat (29) edged out Patrick Kane (27) for the team lead in goals. He followed that up with a 41-goal campaign, which only 11 players accomplished last season.

Despite scoring only 14 goals through his first 60 games this season, DeBrincat has tried to maintain a positive attitude. But it’s certainly been difficult.

"I’m trying to stay even as possible," DeBrincat said. "I think getting down on yourself isn’t really going to help anything. For me, I’ve just been trying to keep working on it. Obviously, you get frustrated at times but try to stay as positive as possible."

While time is running out for the Blackhawks to make a playoff push, it’s still encouraging to see DeBrincat break out of his scoring slump because he’s the kind of player who lives and breathes hockey away from the rink. And the last thing the Blackhawks want or need is to have DeBrincat carry a negative feeling with him into the summer and overthink what may have gone wrong.

Perhaps Friday's game could open up the floodgates for DeBrincat, whose shooting percentage of 9.0 this season is well short of his 14.7 percent career average.

"I feel like we've been getting some chances the past three or four games and he's hit a couple posts and had some good looks," Dylan Strome said. "Nice to see him capitalize on a few of those chances. ... It obviously just builds your confidence then he does that in overtime, so that's good."

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Blackhawks head out for tough road trip with playoff hopes alive

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks head out for tough road trip with playoff hopes alive

The Blackhawks are still well outside the playoff picture and looking in. But after Friday's 2-1 overtime win against the Nashville Predators that saw Alex DeBrincat score two goals, Corey Crawford make 42 saves and Duncan Keith pass 600 NHL points, they're closer to the window and feeling good about themselves again.

"I think we're only six points out so anything can happen, obviously," Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome said. "We were way more than that I think like a month ago or a month and a bit ago, I think we were 10 or 12 out. 

"Positive things to look at: we've had a little bit of a slump here but still six points out. That's three games and I think we have a couple in hand. We have to find a way to get some points back and I thought we've been playing a little better as of late and we just got to keep it going on this tough road trip."

The Hawks will face the Dallas Stars (third in the Western Conference) on Sunday afternoon, the St. Louis Blues (first in the West) on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning (second in the Eastern Conference) on Thursday and the Florida Panthers (three points shy of second wild card spot in the East) on Saturday before returning to the United Center to take on the Anaheim Ducks (second to last in the West) the following Tuesday.

"Yeah it's a big road trip," Strome said. "Three really, really good teams and Florida has been playing really well too. It's a big road trip, I feel like we've been saying the last couple road trips... obviously the Canadian one didn't go very well, but we still played decent so I guess you can take some positives from that. 

"It's the time of year when you got to start winning games. Dallas then St. Louis and then the Florida trip. Some good teams, teams that are fighting for position as well. Got to go into every game like life or death."

Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton felt Saturday's win was big, but the Blackhawks still need to stick to the game plan. 

"We needed something good to happen," Colliton said. "Ultimately, what we need to do is play hard, take care of our details, our team. I’m saying similar things that I do whenever we meet in here, but that’s because it’s what’s important and what we need to focus on. The other stuff, it’s going to sort out."

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