Blackhawks checking line finds chemistry again

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Blackhawks checking line finds chemistry again

COLUMBUS, Ohio Its clear what the Blackhawks are looking for in their checking line: stop opponents from scoring first, and get any offense you can on your end.

The Blackhawks latest checking-line group has the potential to work both sides very well.

Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg have formed some chemistry again and it was evident in the Blackhawks 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night. The trio, which was together earlier this season, has looked comfortable again. And coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw on Thursday.

With Stals speed and Bicks size, its little things that help us out there, Bolland said. Its always helpful having two big guys on your line that have some speed.

They had long cycles in the offensive zone, a lot of puck possession time, Quenneville said. Were not happy about the one goal (they gave up to Carl Hagelin) but they did a lot of good things. They were controlling the play a lot and had the puck a lot. Thats where were looking to be at.

Indeed, the three were playing their best defense on Thursday with the offensive chances they created on the other end. Both Stalberg and Bolland had prime opportunities, something they havent had in a while.

Its a team game, and when we have chances wed like to bury them. But its nice to start getting them again. It seemed like they dried up lately, Stalberg said. We have to take advantage of them and get more comfortable in those areas. If we can keep the puck in their end and cycle, thats going to be better for us.

Bolland said, with Stals speed and Bicks size, its the little things that help us out there. Its always helpful having two big guys on your line that have some speed.

Of the three, Stalbergs adjusting to the checking-line role the most. His first indoctrination came with these two earlier this season and hes embracing the challenge.

Its something I want to learn and want to get better at. Last night was a step in the right direction, said Stalberg.

Yes, we all know Quennevilles propensity for switching line combinations. We also know that when a line shows some chemistry, it gets a chance. This trio should get a decent one.

We compliment each other, all three of us. It seems like were making pretty good plays, playing simple, Stalberg said. If we take care of our end well get our chances. Last night we did. Wed like to bury them but thats going to happen at some point.

For Andrew Ladd, chance to play for a contender trumps money

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For Andrew Ladd, chance to play for a contender trumps money

Andrew Ladd’s second stint in Chicago was, in some ways, like his first one.

He had good teammates and enjoyed being around them again. He had nothing but good things to say about the organization that welcomed him here for the second time in his career.

The only difference was the abrupt postseason ending.

“It’s disappointing, for sure,” Ladd said during Wednesday’s wrap-up interviews. “You bring your family here and move your whole life. You want to make a run for it, make it worthwhile. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.”

Ladd’s stay with the Blackhawks is likely to be a brief one. They traded for the veteran, who was part of their 2010 Stanley Cup team, figuring he could be a key piece for another run. It wasn’t to be. Ladd had a quiet postseason, recording just two points in the Blackhawks’ seven-game series against the St. Louis Blues.

“It was a tight series, could’ve gone either way and that’s life,” he said. “You move on. Just happy to have the opportunity to come back and be a part of this group again.”

Ladd has reached that point in his career where he can look at the big picture. He’s won two Cups, one with the Blackhawks and the other with the Carolina Hurricanes. His family grew by another member earlier this month; Ladd brought his his son Walker Gordon, born April 14, home on Tuesday.

“It was a good day after what happened in St. Louis,” Ladd said. “It kind of put things in perspective when you can come home and take your mind off everything else.”

As for Ladd’s continuing hockey career, he said it’s not about getting the lucrative contract anymore as much as it’s about playing for a winner.

“I think I’m at the point in my career where I can make decisions based on being in a good situation. At the end of the day it’s not all about money for me. It’s about being in a good place for my family and being on a team that’s going to contend every year,” Ladd said. “You’d be crazy not to want to be a part of this group and this organization. We’ll see what happens.”

Chances are the Blackhawks and Ladd will not be together in the near future. The Blackhawks are once again facing a salary-cap crunch and, if there is a high-priority signee for them, it’s Andrew Shaw. Even that possibility is a tough one.

Still, Ladd’s not ruling anything out. Ladd’s latest playoff run with the Blackhawks was much shorter than he or they would have liked. But the Blackhawks have the pieces to contend again, and Ladd wouldn’t mind being a part of it.

“Every guy’s at a different point in his career in terms of what he wants to accomplish, whether he has a family or he’s getting on later in his career and wants to be part of a contender,” Ladd said. “There are a lot of things that go into that. You evaluate that individually and try to make the best decision possible for yourself and for your family. At the end of the day, you try to do whatever’s possible to be a part of a group and an organization like this.”

Blackhawks: Corey Crawford not among Vezina Trophy finalists

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Blackhawks: Corey Crawford not among Vezina Trophy finalists

Corey Crawford was not among the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, annually awarded to the league's top goaltender, the National Hockey League announced Wednesday.

Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop, Washington's Braden Holtby and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick were named candidates, which is voted on by the 30 general managers.

Bishop was named a finalist for the second time in his career after finishing third in 2013-14 while Quick is also a two-time nominee after earning a second-place finish in 2011-12.

Holtby, who tied an NHL record this season with 48 wins, is a first-time finalist.

Crawford set a career high with 35 wins, which was tied for fourth-best this season, despite missing one month with an upper-body injury. The Blackhawks netminder recorded a .924 save percentage, 2.37 goals against average and led the league with seven shutouts.

The winner will be announced Wednesday, June 22 at the 2016 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

 

Blackhawks have offseason to get past 'tough feeling' of early playoff exit

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Blackhawks have offseason to get past 'tough feeling' of early playoff exit

It probably took until today, when the Blackhawks had their closing meetings, their final wrap-up interviews with the media.

Their postseason, their shortest since 2012, is really over.

“It's just one of those real empty feelings. It still kind of feels like maybe we have a couple days off and then we'll get back to saying again,” Patrick Kane said. “Pretty tough feeling. A lot of us love showing up to the rink, playing hockey and getting ready for a game especially this time of year. It'll be tough to watch and see someone else win the award this year.”

The Blackhawks felt they had the pieces in place for another long playoff run, possibly even being the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s. It wasn’t to be, but general manager Stan Bowman said it wasn’t for lack of trying.

"Certainly proud of the effort we gave,” he said. “We played (the Blues) 12 times this year, 11 of the games were one-goal games. So obviously it was a very even series. When you play a good team like that sometimes you come out on the short end, not through lack of effort. But your goal is to win, and when you don't you're disappointed.”

The Blackhawks entered this season a little depleted following another post-Cup, salary-cap purge. There were deficiencies at forward and defense that hadn’t been there in recent seasons. Still, the Blackhawks thought they had enough to go on another run, especially after getting Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann at the deadline. But the four-line consistency that’s long been a part of the Blackhawks was missing. Young defensemen had up-and-down moments throughout the season, so the onus remained on Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

“It’s been a long, long time (since) we finished this early. Before the trade deadline, when we picked up new guys, we were excited and we said we could go far again. Obviously St. Louis played great hockey. We fought back and (lost) Game 7 by one goal,” Hossa said. “It’s tough to lose in the first round. But on the other hand, now it’s over, everybody’s going to have a good, long summer to recharge and be fresher for next year, the next push.”

Indeed, the Blackhawks will get ample time to rest and recuperate. They haven’t had much time to do either over these last three years, and you wonder if playing that much hockey caught up with some of the core players. Most of that core will return. Maybe Andrew Shaw is gone, as the team’s financial situation will make it tough to keep him. But there are still plenty remaining, and the extra rest could help them make sure this long offseason isn’t repeated.

“Get some rest now, try to recover as best we can and get ready for next year,” Seabrook said. “We know we’ve got a good team going into next season and a chance to compete, so we want to have a long playoff next year.”