Blackhawks better, but no 'W' all that matters

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Blackhawks better, but no 'W' all that matters

Moral victories are nice, but the longer a team has to settle for them, the less they mean.

The Blackhawks remained stuck at one point in their last nine games and theyve pretty much used up all their mulligans in the Western Conference playoff standings. No, they wont be out of it by the time they take the ice against the NHLs best team Thursday at Madison Square Garden. But who would have thought at the start of this trip that by the time they return to the United Center Sunday morning, they just might be?

The penalty kill held the leagues second-ranked power play off the board in three chances. The compete level and overall defensive coverage was more consistent. They rallied twice from one-goal deficits in a tough arena to tie.

But none of that mattered when Dylan Olsen couldnt get a puck out of the Hawks zone with about six minutes left. Nashville worked it around to Ryan Ellis, who wound up from the point for the second time in the game and the rubber wound up behind Ray Emery. The first time, it was tipped-in by Nick Spaling for a 2-1 Preds lead. This time, it glanced off Duncan Keiths stick, but Emery still had a clear look and maybe time to adjust the deflection.

The moral victory is that Emery was otherwise very good. The fact that a big save eluded him meant the Hawks would go without a victory again when they couldnt rally back a third time. The Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane line that Joel Quenneville put together was very good. The reality is it didnt get on the scoresheet despite heavy offensive pressure and accounting for 10 of the teams 32 shots.

The Hawks played hard and with urgency. When they skated off, their situation became more urgent.

In five of the seven games so far on this trip, the Hawks have found themselves tied in the third period. In another, they entered the third down just one goal. Theyve been close, but been unable to finish. It wound up being another night that didnt quiet those wondering if they are finished.

As they head to New York, that Giants analogy they used a week ago after the G-men won the Super Bowl despite sporting a 7-7 record late in the season could inspire a trip to Tom Coughlins office. The longer the wait becomes to draw that comparison, no matter the effort, the harder it is to believe it could happen the same way without the results.

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, and have eliminated the Minnesota Wild from the playoffs three times from 2013-15.

But it's the Wild that NHL coaches believe will win the Western Conference this season as we approach the trade deadline.

In his annual midseason poll, TSN's Bob McKenzie surveyed 25 of 30 coaches to vote on multiple categories, such as the league's best player and the team most likely to win it all.

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According to the survey, 11 coaches predicted the Wild will win the West while the Blackhawks and Sharks tied for second with four votes.

As for winning the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals are the favorite, earning 10 votes, followed closely by the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins with eight. The Wild and Blackhawks rounded out the poll with three and two votes, respectively.

Joel Quenneville earned one vote as the NHL's best coach, which is three fewer votes than he had last year, despite this year being arguably his most challenging — and best — coaching job since arriving in Chicago, given the youth on the roster.

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Incentive. For many young prospects trying to latch onto an NHL roster, there's already plenty of it there. It's a chance at playing on a bigger stage, a bigger opportunity for a career and, if you're on a two-way contract, a bigger paycheck.

Tanner Kero already had that incentive but in November, received an even more special one: he and his wife welcomed their first child, a boy. Now when Kero plays, it's not just what it means for him. It's what it means for his family.

"It's been a fun experience. It's something a little extra special that you play for," Kero said. "You get your mind away from the game when you go home. You just relax and enjoy that part of life. It's just something extra to play for and it's been special."

Kero has been making the most of his second shot with the Blackhawks, recording two goals and two assists on the Blackhawks' dads trip. That included a three-point night against the Colorado Avalanche and a building chemistry with line mates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa. 

Coach Joel Quenneville likes what he's seen thus far.

"He did a great job for us," Quenneville said. "Defensively, we like his availability in his own end. We like his positioning offensively. He had a nice couple of games to finish the dads trip but he's been good for us. I like the consistency."

Rockford coach Ted Dent said Kero started playing better in November, not long after Kero became a dad. Whether or not that had anything to do with it Dent didn't know, but the results were there nonetheless.

"I think he'd be the first to say his season started off slow with us and he finally caught his stride, maybe 15-20 games into our season," Dent said. "He was skating better, skating stronger, he had more confidence with the puck and things just came together."

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Kero's line is a good blend of familiarity, defense and skill. Kero and Hinostroza are good friends who played together plenty in Rockford. Hossa is... well, Hossa, and pretty much benefits any line mate.

"It's been good," Kero said. "We've been trying to continue, get some secondary scoring. But we also want to be relied on defensively, be counted on to play in big situations, a defensive draw, at the end of a period or end of a game. We're trying to focus on being good defensively, being simple and hard to play against. We're getting fortunate enough to contribute offensively as well."

Hossa, whose game-winning goal in Boston came off a Kero feed, said the 24-year-old is adapting well.

"Since they called him up he took it to his advantage. Right now he's playing the 200-foot game, [he's] real smart in our zone, doesn't panic, makes the right play at the right time, and he's showing more offensive abilities," Hossa said. "It seems like things are going well for him and we're glad we can help as a third line right now in scoring some important goals. With young players, that's definitely big."

Kero's made an impact and an impression with the Blackhawks. Quenneville said on Sunday that, even when Marcus Kruger returns from his injury, Kero will likely remain where he is – "I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

"That comment tells you the trust level he's gained in Kero," Dent said. "I knew over time that Kero was a player that Q was going to love. I've gotten to know Q over the years and in talking to him I know what he likes in players and it was just a matter of time because Kero's a responsible two-way player. He doesn't cheat the game and he's very aware of his defensive responsibilities and that's what Q loves, first and foremost. A lot of us coaches love that."

Kero is making strides in his second stint with the Blackhawks. He already had plenty of incentive to make an impact on this roster. Now a new father, he has that much more of one.