Crawford's performance one of many positives

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Crawford's performance one of many positives

The Blackhawks like the way they played, and for the most part, there's not much to complain about over their final 40 minutes last night in Vancouver.

If they keep playing as they did over the final two periods, they should win in Calgary and Edmonton, and 2-0-1 would be the next-best-thing to start this nine-game test. Thing is, they need to start playing like that all the time, make the "ifs" a non-factor, and, to be blunt, getting one of a potential six points these last three games against two teams now above you in the Western standings can't continue. Not when Nashville starts the second half by storming from behind in the third period against a desperate Wild team in Minnesota. Not when Detroit starts their own western Canadian swing with a win in Calgary. It's just the bottom line of what they're dealing with.

We'll chalk up the first period defense to some six-day rust. That was also a pretty good team on the other side, much as we might not want to admit it (and even better with the goalie they started). Once the Hawks got their bearings back under them, they played well, and carried the action the majority of the time. It also seemed evident to this pair of eyes that Patrick Sharp was still feeling his way back, if not being a little tentative, after three weeks away. Throw in a brand new center with him and Marian Hossa, and we'll see how that line progresses, and how much Brendan Morrison can provide.

Until we get that answer, Stan Bowman has to continue to make adding a top-four defenseman the ideal priority. The main one who was on the market, Carolina's Tim Gleason, re-upped for four years with the 'Canes, so that field shrinks and the competition for what's left becomes tougher. So before we start plucking names on our wish lists, think again whom and how many you'd be willing to sacrifice from among the young crop (Kruger? Hayes? Olsen? Morin? Pirri?) to beat out the competition for that piece -- whether it's on the blueline, or another forward if Morrison's not the answer. John Scott barely played last night, and if you picked him over O'Donnell and Lepisto, the other five (especially the top two) can't be asked to suck up all the unbalanced minutes.

It was a confidence-building game for Corey Crawford. His performance was one of a handful of positives to take out of Vancouver. But it only got the Blackhawks one point. I'll still take a team that's healthy and hitting its stride come playoff time over one that finds life easy during the regular season. It's all about that build-up. But as we flip the calendar to February, the rest of the teams in front of the Hawks don't seem to care about that mindset.

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.”