Hawks' ability to maintain edge proves successful once again

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Hawks' ability to maintain edge proves successful once again

As the Chicago Blackhawks tried to figure out ways to beat Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen on Thursday night, they couldnt help but admire the guy.

It was almost fun to watch how good he was playing, just making acrobatic save after save, Patrick Kane said afterward.

Sure, that came after the Blackhawks came back to beat said goaltender, 3-2, in overtime. But what strikes me about that comment is this: the Blackhawks saw what Lehtonen was doing, they respected him for it, but they never lost their edge or stopped trying to beat him. And eventually it paid off.

Theres a certain calmness, a team-wide focus to these Blackhawks through the first four games. Theres no panic, no massive worry and no apprehension coming through in their play.

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It was a really good game for us and I think their tender was amazing tonight, goaltender Corey Crawford said. We just kept sticking to the same play, kept going, and our guys did a great job not getting frustrated. The missed opportunities or big saves sometimes get to you. But tonight was great. We kept going, got some big goals and an amazing play by Kaners at the end there.

The Blackhawks are off to their best start in 40 years, thanks to a combination of solid team play, better special teams and, yes, those four rolling lines that recently had Marian Hossa reminiscing all the way back to 2010. Its a familiar group, one that hasnt changed much since last season. But thats proving to be a good thing.

You look at the team we have now, its pretty much the same as last year. Its a team that had a good season, had over 100 points, underachieved in the playoffs and thought we couldve had a better season, Kane said. You put the same group together, theyre going to have a chip on their shoulder to come back and prove to everyone that it can be the team to do something special. Hopefully thats what we have in here.

Yes, there are going to be bumps in the road and (gasp) losses at some point. But the Blackhawks are playing like a cohesive, confident group with something to prove; and thats going to help them plenty through this 48-game sprint of a season.

The power play takes a positive turn

Patrick Sharp recently talked about the Blackhawks special teams, including that power play that was so beleaguered last season.

Yeah, its been a topic of conversation for a long time, he said.

Well, it still is. Except this time, its for a good reason. The Blackhawks power play, a glaring Achilles heel last season, has been a boon in the early going. Theyve scored at least one power-play goal in each of their first four games, including all three of their goals in Thursday nights 3-2 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars.

Six power-play goals in the first four games: not bad for a team that managed 42 man-advantage goals in 82 games last season.

Duncan Keith to the rescue

Corey Crawford was solid in getting his third victory of the season, stopping 21 of 23 including a penalty shot. But a little help never hurts.

An Alex Goligoski shot trickled through Crawfords pads and toward the goal as the final second-period seconds ticked away. Duncan Keith stopped it, clearing the puck as the horn sounded.

That guy, hes aware all over the ice, he gets to things so quick, Crawford said of Keith. He saved my rear end. I owe him one now, I guess.

Stanley Cup Final preview: Commonalities between Penguins, Sharks

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Stanley Cup Final preview: Commonalities between Penguins, Sharks

The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins don’t see each other much during the regular season but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a common bond. For each, the chance to end years of frustration – certainly more for the Sharks than the Penguins – is here.

It’s the Stanley Cup Final, and for just the second time since 2010 the Western Conference is represented by someone other than the Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings. Instead, the Sharks are making their first Cup appearance in franchise history. They’re facing a Penguins team that’s back in the final for the first time since 2009, when they beat the Detroit Red Wings for the Cup.

A show of hands: Who had these two in the final when they did their preseason predictions? Not many, if any. Two years ago the Sharks had a 3-0 series lead against the Kings, who came back to beat San Jose in four straight. From the summer of 2014 to the spring of 2015, the Sharks took letters off sweaters, missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and dismissed coach Todd McLellan. From an outside perspective, it looked like things would get worse before they got better.

As for Pittsburgh, the Penguins have been in the postseason every year since 2009 but failed to return to this stage each time.

So what changed this year for each? Let’s start with the Sharks. As my Bay Area colleague Kevin Kurz pointed out, the Sharks are here for several reasons: A change in attitude and goaltending and finding the right pieces to complement a longstanding core are among them. Removing/renaming captains could have torn the Sharks apart. And while there was plenty of friction and a few verbal jabs at the time, the Sharks stuck together. General manager Doug Wilson made a few key moves, including acquiring Martin Jones from Boston on June 30, 2015 (the Bruins had traded for Jones just four days prior). The backup-turned-starter was excellent.

The Penguins are here due to a lot of the same reasons: They changed coaches and tweaked their lineup around their core. Acquiring defenseman Trevor Daley from the Blackhawks in December proved pivotal. Daley, who didn’t log many minutes with the Blackhawks, fit in immediately with the Penguins. Blackhawks fans who took to Twitter asking, “Why did they trade for Daley?” in July 2015, asked, “Why did they trade Daley away?” in April.

Pittsburgh went with a new goalie, too, albeit for different reasons. When Marc-Andre Fleury was sidelined with a concussion in March, Matt Murray got his chance. And outside of Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Murray is still in there. It’s one more feel-good story from a final that is teeming with them.

The path to the Stanley Cup Final is rarely an easy one. Some teams have had to go through massive changes to get there (please see the Blackhawks just prior to 2010). The Sharks and Penguins had to make their changes as well, from personality to personnel. Both have gone through their turmoil to get here. Now to see who ultimately triumphs.

Thirteen Blackhawks land on finalized World Cup of Hockey rosters

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Thirteen Blackhawks land on finalized World Cup of Hockey rosters

Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger and defenseman Ville Pokka were added to Team Sweden and Team Finland, respectively, as team rosters were completed for the World Cup of Hockey on Friday.

Christian Ehrhoff, who was traded to the Blackhawks during the season, was added to Team Europe.

Nine Blackhawks were already chosen for their respective country’s teams back in March: Corey Crawford, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith (Team Canada), Patrick Kane (USA), Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin (Russia), Teuvo Teravainen (Finland), Niklas Hjalmarsson (Sweden) and Marian Hossa (Team Europe).

Michal Kempny, a defenseman the Blackhawks signed earlier this week, was also named to Team Czech Republic in March.

The World Cup of Hockey will be held from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 in Toronto.

Watch: Kid imitates Patrick Kane's post-goal celly in youth hockey game

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Watch: Kid imitates Patrick Kane's post-goal celly in youth hockey game

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that young hockey players are patterning their games off Patrick Kane.

But the next generation of scorers are modeling their post-goal celebrations after the Blackhawks star, too.

Check out this video of a kid in a youth hockey game mimicking Kane's celebration from this year's playoffs, when he scored the double-overtime winner in Game 5 of the Blackhawks' series against the Blues.

Not bad, kid!

Kane recognized the kid's celly game, tweeting the video out to his followers Friday afternoon.