Smith returns to Blackhawks lineup

591058.png

Smith returns to Blackhawks lineup

Ben Smith has been practicing and learning while waiting for his chance to get back into the Blackhawks lineup.

Hell get his opportunity tonight.

Smith will play tonight when the Blackhawks host the New York Islanders at the United Center. Smith has been a healthy scratch since playing in both Calgary and Edmonton on the teams circus trip. Its not clear who will come out in favor of Smith, but coach Joel Quenneville said its time to get the young forward back into the lineup.

"Certainly we like to be playing him," Quenneville said. "He had a couple tough ones (in Canada) but hes versatile, gives us some quickness and intelligence. He got going in Rockford and it looks like getting him back in here wed like to get him up to that pace, get him comfortable in our team game and in his own game. We think hes useful, so lets get him in there."

For Smith, its another chance to make an impact. He did it last postseason against Vancouver. He wasnt nearly as noticeable against Calgary and Edmonton last month; then again there werent many great performances from any Blackhawks out of those two.

Smith just wants to get the same type of performances he had in Rockford earlier this season.

Its not an easy transition from the American League, but thats no excuse, obviously. I just want to play and play well and contribute, Smith said. Its all about patience and working hard every day. Thats what Im trying to do.

Brent Seabrook and Steve Montador skated with the Blackhawks this morning while Dave Bolland did not. Quenneville said yesterday that all three were expected to play tonight.

Blackhawks: Corey Crawford not among Vezina Trophy finalists

q_on_disappointment_and_reflects_on_season_04-27_640x360_674824771766.jpg

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

anisimov_on_season_and_feeling_empty_04-27_640x360_674901571676.jpg

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.”

Artemi Panarin thrives during rookie season with Blackhawks

hossa_on_panarin_and_panarin_talks_chicago_04-27_640x360_674890819547.jpg

Artemi Panarin thrives during rookie season with Blackhawks

Marian Hossa watched some of the World Championships last May after the Blackhawks swept the Minnesota Wild. That’s when he got his first glimpse of Artemi Panarin.

“I saw this kid playing Slovakia, and he was just dominating. So I watched another game, and he was dominating again,” Hossa said. “One of the players was fun to watch, and when I heard he was coming to Chicago I was like, ‘Can’t wait for this guy.’ And he didn’t disappoint at all. He just picked up where he left off from what I saw on the TV screen.”

Panarin definitely didn’t disappoint in his first NHL season, bolstering the Blackhawks’ offense with his 77 points. Joining Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, Panarin was part of the Blackhawks’ most consistent line of the season.

General manager Stan Bowman anticipated Panarin adapting to the North American style but admitted he didn’t expect 77 points.

“We had hoped that he would come in here and be an offensive player. In watching his style of play and watching his performance over the last couple years in the KHL, we knew that he had a chance to be an offensive player. Whether he's going to find chemistry or whether he's going to be effective throughout a full season, I didn't expect him to be as good as he was,” Bowman said at the Blackhawks’ closing meetings on Wednesday. “These are the great surprises you have, when he comes in and does something that's sort of unheard of for a first year player. So, that was obviously a big reason for our team's success. He came in, and he gave us a lot offensive production, which we clearly needed.”

For Panarin, his first NHL season was certainly a memorable one.

“I was very happy just to play for Blackhawks,” Panarin said through interpreter Stan Stiopkin. “This is a first-class organization, general manager, coaches, players and the players helping me a lot. It was like a good group of players, and I feel comfortable. I’m really happy to be in Chicago because this is probably the best city in the world.”

Panarin and Kane clicked immediately on the ice. It certainly helped to have fellow Russian Anisimov there, too, especially after Panarin’s good friend/former St. Petersburg teammate Viktor Tikhonov was waived and picked up by Arizona. It was rare when the trio were separated. For coach Joel Quenneville, there was no reason to do so: The line’s consistency and production was tough to beat.

“He came in here as a great story for us, knowing that we got to sign a potentially special player and live through it with all the hype surrounding him and delivered in every which way. He was a special player,” Quenneville said of Panarin. “I loved his consistency. I loved the way he enjoys the game. Liked is progression over the course of the season, though he got a lot more attention as the season progressed.”

Yes, teams started focusing on Panarin that much more as the season continued. And Anisimov said that’s why Panarin has to bring even more in his sophomore season here.

“He can do a lot more,” he said. “This was the first season for him, and he adapted. But for the next season he needs to improve his game to another level because everybody’s going to be prepared for him. He showed his potential, and he needs to be better.”

Panarin said that he will play for Team Russia in the upcoming World Championships. He said there are a few things he needs to improve upon entering the fall of 2016 — “ confidence, playing 1-on-1 in the attacking zone,” he said. His first season here, however, was a great one. Hossa was right: What he saw from Panarin on TV translated onto the NHL ice.

“It was just fun to watch him. And he and Kane were so dynamic and so much fun to watch,” Hossa said. “What a season they had.”