Dylan Strome

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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Dylan Strome officially cleared to return for Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Dylan Strome officially cleared to return for Blackhawks

GLENDALE, Ariz. — After missing seven games with a right ankle sprain, Dylan Strome has been cleared to play and will return to the lineup Saturday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes in their first game back out of the bye week.

Strome skated on his own in Chicago on Wednesday, was a full participant in practice on Thursday and Friday, and took part in Saturday's optional morning skate. He feels ready to go.

"It sucks being away," Strome said. "The guys got back in the playoff hunt there, only [four] points out now so should be an exciting game. A lot of Blackhawks fans here, so should be fun."

Strome skated on a line with Alex DeBrincat and David Kampf during Friday’s practice, so expect that trio to start together against the Coyotes. Strome, who's a natural center, will play on the right wing like he did before he got injured on Jan. 7 in a 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames.

"It just frees him up a little more to use his energy on the offensive side of the puck," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He can still play center and he probably will at times here. But any time you can have two centermen on a line, if that's what we're able to do, you're able to share the workload. ... He's a guy that can produce offense for us and if he's fresh, it's easier."

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After flurry of key injuries, Blackhawks getting healthy at the right time

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USA Today

After flurry of key injuries, Blackhawks getting healthy at the right time

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Blackhawks were decimated by injuries during the first half of the season and most of them were key pieces to the puzzle, particularly on the back end, which included Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy and season-ending injuries to Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook.

But the Blackhawks are starting to get healthy at the perfect time.

Drake Caggiula missed 27 games with a concussion and has five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games since returning to the lineup. Brandon Saad, who missed 12 games with a right ankle sprain, also came back before the NHL All-Star break and didn't skip a beat, scoring two goals in three games. 

And now they're hoping for the same from Dylan Strome, who practiced with the team on Thursday in Arizona for the first time since suffering a right ankle sprain on Jan. 7 that's forced him to miss seven games. It’s unclear whether he’ll play on Saturday against the Coyotes, but it’s a positive sign that he was a full participant.

“I think a game’s a lot different than a practice,” Strome said. “Try to push it pretty hard tomorrow. Felt pretty good out there, did a lot of skating. It’s an injury where you just don’t want to make it worse. I tried to skate a few times after it happened and didn’t really help it. Felt OK to walk on, but the skating's just a different story. Took some time off, got the right treatment, feels pretty good now so happy about that.”

Strome initially thought he broke his leg on the play. But the MRI showed no structural damage and it was ruled by team doctors as a sprain, which was a huge sigh of relief for Strome, who admitted "I hate missing games more than anyone."

"I got lucky," he said. "There's no way around it. You see Dougie Hamilton [who suffered a fractured fibula two weeks ago], it's pretty much the same thing that happened to him. I got lucky. Whatever it was, it just didn't feel good right when it happened. ... It felt like something wasn't right. I was walking around with my stuff off right after it happened. Tried to push on it and see if I could go back out there. I was limping pretty good. Obviously the right thing to stay off it and recover."

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, Strome should be back in the lineup soon to help balance out the four-line rotation as they look to climb back into the playoff race.

The lengthy break may not have come at an opportune time from the standpoint the Blackhawks have won 11 of their past 16 games and five of their last six, but it allowed the players an opportunity to heal up and that's probably the most important part. Now it's picking up where they left off.

"Our focus is to try and find that rhythm again," Jonathan Toews said. "It's like anything you do, you take yourself out of something you've been doing every day for months and months, you kind of let your hair down a little bit and the wind goes out of the sails a little bit. So, just got to find a way.

"It's nice that we have today's practice and tomorrow to get our bodies ready and our mind back in the grind to be ready because we know it's going to be a tough game Saturday. Arizona's having a couple games before that, so they'll be ready too, but we don't want to miss a beat getting back at it."

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