Two games in, Blackhawks getting a 2010 feeling about 2013

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Two games in, Blackhawks getting a 2010 feeling about 2013

PHOENIX The Blackhawks lines rolled out at their respective times, each doing its part against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, then the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday. Some scored. Some defended. But all played good, effective minutes.

It was enough to get Marian Hossa reminiscing.

Right now, it feels like 2010.

The Blackhawks have been yearning to get four lines going again since that Stanley Cup-winning season. And in their first two games, theyve been getting them. Everyone is playing, everyone is contributing in some fashion. And that four-line effort gave the Blackhawks two victories on that opening road trip out West.

We have the four lines going. Its only two games, but I feel good about us rolling four lines, Hossa said. Everyones more energized instead of playing two or three lines and getting tired.

Sure, every team wants four lines going. But in this frenetic 48-game season, the more that can occur the better off a team will be. On training camps opening day, coach Joel Quenneville stated it was a must in the abbreviated season. And whether its his new combinations, the familiarity players have with each other or the fact everyones so happy to be playing again, hes getting it.

Just like he did three seasons ago. That Cup-winning squad had been building and getting familiar with each others style for a few seasons. It all came together that year when their talent and familiarity allowed for four lines rolling consistently. This seasons team didnt change much from last year, so players are once again getting comfortable with each other. And its showing in the lines.

The 2010 team had four lines we were rotating; everybody was going. Thats what were talking about this season, Quenneville said. I like how all our players are capable of playing together and playing against anyone. Especially on the road, we trust everybody out there. I like the depth; well probably get challenged with it, but itll help us.

The time-on-ice numbers say it all for the Blackhawks. Fourth-liner Brandon Bollig had the lowest TOI tally of 5 minutes, 40 seconds, but probably wouldve had more if not for his fight with Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette. The rest of the Blackhawks forwards had 10 minutes or more each. Brandon Saad, in his season debut, had 13:31 with top liners Jonathan Toews and Hossa.

The numbers dont lie; the four lines were rolling on a weekend when the Blackhawks needed to conserve energy, needed everybody to be involved. In turn, theyve been fresher, and have capitalized on plenty of scoring chances. The Blackhawks have 11 goals in their first two games; 15 of the 20 skaters who played in the first two games have at least one point.

The cores been here for a while; we know each other and how its going to be, center Dave Bolland said. And with other guys who have come in, weve bonded pretty quick to adapt to what we have to do.

Quenneville said, Guys want the puck. We have good speed in our team game right now. Weve had some odd-man breaks, had some fortunate luck around the net. You look at how hard it was to score against (the Coyotes) in the playoffs and tonight they went in.

The Blackhawks got off to the start they wanted. Theyre getting more consistent contributions across the board. And theyre getting a sense that this 2013 group, right now, has that 2010 feel to it.

We need all four lines rolling. And we have the team that can do that, whether were down or up (on the scoreboard), Bolland said. We have a great team, with great depth.

Resilient Wild make statement with comeback win over Blackhawks

Resilient Wild make statement with comeback win over Blackhawks

The Minnesota Wild have been chasing the Blackhawks for a long time.

They may not be so far away now.

After falling behind 2-0, the Wild scored three unanswered goals to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 at the United Center on Sunday night, and moved into sole possession of first place in the Central Division and Western Conference with 61 points, and still have four games in hand.

But even the Wild had to remind themselves that they're on the same playing surface as the Blackhawks, who eliminated Minnesota from the playoffs for three consecutive seasons from 2013-15, two of which were en route to Stanley Cup wins.

"We were pretty slow," coach Bruce Boudreau said about the team's first period. "I thought we were in a little bit of quick sand. We watched them play. I think it was a little bit more [we were] in awe. It's the Chicago Blackhawks, we're supposed to be in awe."

When they snapped out of it, the Wild looked like the team that has become one of the NHL's best, having now won 17 of their last 19 games.

Wild nemesis Patrick Kane scored the game's first two goals, but Minnesota displayed the type of resiliency every contender needs by evening it up in the second period thanks to a power-play goal by Nino Neiderreiter — his third goal in as many games — and Chris Stewart, who found the back of the net for the second consecutive contest.

Jason Pominville, who hadn't scored in 19 straight games, registered the game-winner early in the third period to cap off a Wild victory. It's Minnesota's eighth straight win against Chicago, a feat that even its coach can't explain.

"To beat this team eight times in a row is really something," Boudreau said. "I don't understand how you could do it. I wish I would have had that knowledge a couple years ago. But it's a new year and it's just one in a row right now."

That's one of many reasons why the Wild have been so successful this season. They're taking it one game at a time, and no matter what the score is, they continue to play the same way and have the belief they can win any game.

Less than 24 hours before their win over the Blackhawks, the Wild jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Dallas and squandered it in the third period. They found a way to bounce back, however, to take home a 5-4 victory in regulation.

So, how do they keep doing it?

"I don't know," Boudreau responded. "We're supposed to. If you want to win, you've got to come back, right? You got to believe. I think the biggest thing is believing you can, and that's the first step. If you don't believe you can come back, you never come back. If you always believe there's a chance, there's a good chance you can do it."

Said Stewart: "I just think we're a confident bunch. We believe in ourselves. We know we didn't get the start that we wanted, but we got one to crawl back in it and all this team needs is a little bit of life."

There's no better measuring stick than to beat a team in your division that's won three championships since 2010, and has been powerhouses in the West for nearly a decade.

And it's something the Wild hope — and believe — they're in the process of achieving.

"It's always a big rival," Neiderreiter said. "You always want to beat the Hawks. They won a few Stanley Cup in the past few years, and that's something we want to accomplish someday. To do that, we have to make sure we beat top teams like that."

Five Things from Blackhawks-Wild: Start strong, finish fizzles

Five Things from Blackhawks-Wild: Start strong, finish fizzles

Well, that weekend didn't go as planned.

The Blackhawks played a lot better on Sunday night but suffered the same fate as Friday, coming away with no points and losing first place in the Western Conference in their 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Let's dispense with the frivolities. Here are Five Things to take away from the Blackhawks' loss to Minnesota.

1. Strong start. The Blackhawks needed to come out strong in this one, mainly because their Friday game against the Washington Capitals was so bad but also because the Wild were coming off a frenzied 5-4 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. The Blackhawks got the appropriate start, outshooting the Wild 14-8 and leading 1-0 on Patrick Kane's goal. Speaking of which… 

2. Kane with the great evening. The Blackhawks dressing seven defensemen meant one thing: Kane was probably going to get a lot of ice time. That he did, double-shifting with the second and fourth lines in the first period and giving the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead with first- and second-period goals. Kane finished with a career-high 12 shots on goal in 27:09 of ice time. "You know you're going to play a lot. I don't know if [27] minutes is that amount you want to be playing, but at the same time, you're not going to say no when he calls you to go out there too," Kane said.

3. The Wild respond in the second. Minnesota didn't have the best start but they regained momentum and erased a deficit in the second period. It's not that their chances were that much better than the Blackhawks – it was a fairly even period in every way, from shots on goal (16-15 Blackhawks) to overall play. But coach Joel Quenneville didn't like how the Blackhawks played on Nino Niederreiter or Chris Stewart's goals, calling the mistakes made on them, "cardinal sins."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

4. Quiet night for the top line. Outside of Marian Hossa, the Blackhawks' top line didn't do much on Sunday night. Hossa had two shots on goal. Jonathan Toews had none, as it was another too-quiet night for the Blackhawks' captain. 

5. Minnesota keeps the rivalry edge. Remember those three consecutive springs in which the Blackhawks dispatched the Wild? Well, the past two seasons may not be equal in payback terms but the Wild are nevertheless tilting the rivalry – at least in regular-season games – in their favor. The Wild won all five games last season and took the first of this season, as well. Minnesota made some good offseason moves, including acquiring Eric Staal in July. Full marks to the Wild: right now, they are the cream of the Western Conference crop.