Handzus finding his rhythm where Blackhawks need him most

Handzus finding his rhythm where Blackhawks need him most
April 21, 2014, 11:45 pm
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The sound echoed through the United Center moments after Michal Handzus blocked a shot on the Chicago Blackhawks’ penalty kill: ZEUUUUUS.

Sometimes players are so caught up in the game that they don’t hear a chant, boos or cheers. But Handzus heard that one. So did his teammates.

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“The guys were killing me on the bench,” Handzus said.

The veteran center had his struggles this regular season, and his second-line center role in the first three postseason games has been more part-time, shared with Ben Smith. But when it comes to the penalty kill, knowing where to be and how to come up with a big block, Handzus is still strong. He blocked three shots on Monday, including that one that drew the “Zeus.”

“The Doctor, he's a warrior,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You can't say enough to what he brings the team and the little things he does so well. He leaves it out there. He's a great pro.”

Yes, Handzus remaining in the lineup has drawn some questions. Last season, he grabbed hold of the second-line center role and didn’t let go. He was strong en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career. This year, it hasn’t worked out as well. Smith has shared the second-line center spot with Handzus through the past two games and Handzus’ minutes have decreased from 25:55 in Game 1 (granted, that was a triple-overtime game) to 17 in Game 2 to just over 12 on Monday night.

[MORE - Blues' strong game not enough to fend off Blackhawks]

On that penalty kill, however, Handzus is still a tremendous value. He knows where to be, knows when to drop down and block a shot and is key on clears. Handzus takes pride in that penalty kill, also giving Corey Crawford credit for his 34-stop shutout on Monday.

“Obviously, it’s big. You don’t want to give up the goal in the third like we did in the first two games,” he said. “But Crow played great. He stepped up in big moments in the third and the guys played like they needed (to play). We have to keep doing that; it’s going to be critical the next games.”

[WATCH: Jim Cornelison gets the United Center crowd ready for Game 3]

Handzus has been through the injuries and the diminished playing time. It’s tough, but he still loves this time of year. The games are more tense but also more exciting. So are the kills. And as far as how he feels? Victories always help.

“After a win I feel a little better than when we lose,” he said. “I feel good today.”