Ballantini: Blackhawks postseason All-Stars

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Ballantini: Blackhawks postseason All-Stars

Thursday, June 10, 20103:16 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Although Jonathan Toews was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, the choice wasnt completely cut and dry. Numerous Chicago Blackhawks had dominant enough postseason stretches to make them worthy of the honor.

Heres a position-by-position snapshot of the top Hawks over the course of four postseason rounds and 22 games.

Jonathan Toews, Center
Toews was the Blackhawks best two-way player throughout the playoffs -- and on a team featuring Marian Hossa, thats saying something.

Dustin Byfuglien, Left Wing
Big Buff started and ended the playoffs on relatively flat notes, but his middle -- dominating efforts vs. the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks, where he gathered four of his NHL-best five game-winning goals -- is enough to earn him placement as Chicagos top left wing of the playoffs. Byfuglien did yeoman work as an emergency replacement defenseman during the Nashville Predators quarterfinals and shifted almost seamlessly back to offense when blueliner Brian Campbell rushed back from a broken collarbone to play in Game 4. Elevated to the top line alongside Toews and Patrick Kane in yet another of coach Joel Quennevilles masterstrokes on the fly, Big Buff established himself as a premier offensive force with his unique combination of size, quickness and overall nastiness -- and raised expectations for his star potential in the NHL.

Patrick Kane, Right Wing
To be sure, Kaner didnt have an exquisite playoff run, although he notched a team third-best 10 goals and second-best 18 assists and 28 points. The 21-year-old started quick vs. the Preds and potted one of the most memorable goals in Blackhawks history to extend Game 5 of the Nashville quarters into overtime after his club came just 14 seconds from must-win Games 6 and 7. How, might you ask, did Kane chase that extraordinary shorthander, after struggling on and off in the three subsequent series? By doing what franchise superscorers do -- sensing his team was in need and finding a way, against all odds and overcoming more than 20 minutes of personally draining ice time vs. a weighty opponent to strap Chicago to his back and win the Stanley Cup with a wicked wrister that fooled everyone in the house. Except Crazy 88.

Duncan Keith, Defenseman
Keith wins a lifetime hero pass from Blackhawks fans for his courageous comeback vs. San Jose to help seal a Stanley Cup berth, losing seven teeth from a vicious shot to the face and enduring to return to the game and preserve the Chicago lead. Of course, he also wins a lifetime pass for inking an extension that will keep him in town until hes 40, literally playing all of his days as a Blackhawk. Keith also quarterbacked both Canadas Olympic gold-medal winning defense and that of the Cup-conquering Blackhawks. Oh, and hes the frontrunner for the Norris Trophy as well. Another amazing year for a Hawks young star.

Brent Sopel, Defenseman
Sopel did more with less in these playoffs than anyone on the ice. Not blessed with speed or quickness, scoring talent that has diminished over time and ice time that often befits a third pairing, the Iron Giant stood tall. Half of his 54 postseason blocks (tying him for the team lead with Niklas Hjalmarsson) came in the first playoff series, at a time when Sopels tenacity was truly needed, as Nashville arguably presented the Blackhawks with their staunchest playoff opposition of all.

Antti Niemi, Goalie
No netminder in a throwback scoring series like this Finals is going to be heralded as the second coming, but there were stretches in this postseason where Niemi was nearly that, including two shutouts vs. Nashville that helped set the Blackhawks on course for the Cup (he was the first Blackhawks goalie to record two shutouts in one playoff series since Tony Esposito in 1973 -- heady company indeed). Overall, the rookie -- repeat, rookie -- compiled a .910 save percentage and 2.63 goals-against average in the course of the playoffs. His 16 wins and 1,322 minutes both set Blackhawks postseason records.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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Blackhawks mailbag: Trade rumors abound

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade rumors abound

We interrupt this mid-January Blackhawks mailbag for an important announcement:

We are reaching that time of the season when trade rumors abound. There will be names galore, some that could make sense, some that will make absolutely no sense. Unfortunately, the latter will get as much attention in some circles as the former. That's the way this time of year goes.

One more note: On any name that's bandied about right now, check where his team is in the standings. If it's close to reaching a postseason spot, tap the brakes until things shake out a little more. I know, kids, I know: patience is not a virtue for many people, let alone Twitter. It'll all be OK.

With all that said onto the mailbag which, as you can imagine, asks a few trade-centric questions.

I agree on not trading the first-round draft pick. The Blackhawks have done that in the past but, with the draft in Chicago this summer, they’re going to want to hold onto that as well as a good amount of draft picks. This is their showcase.

I agreed with Jamal Mayers on CSN's latest podcast that the Blackhawks will likely look for someone with no term left on his contract past this season. I know there's been mention of guys with several years and big cap hits remaining on their deals, but how do the Blackhawks do that, especially with Artemi Panarin's new contract also kicking in next season? They'd have to get rid of a big contract and most of their big contracts also have no movement clauses.

Piggybacking off the last question, I do believe the Blackhawks have to do something to bolster their forward depth. They need someone who has some experience but won't cost them a lot (easy for me to say). Who that guy is right now, I'm not sure (don't worry, I'll be doing one of these in February, too). I wouldn't go for a Jarome Iginla or Shane Doan, as much as I like both of those guys. The Blackhawks don't have the forward depth to take a chance on a player who, while he may have been great several years ago, may not have much left now.

I've got three thoughts on this one.

First, the Dallas Stars fall into the above-mentioned category regarding potential playoffs. Despite a slew of injuries and inconsistent play, the Stars are 11th in the Western Conference but are just two points out of a playoff spot.

Second, Sharp has struggled with his health this season, as concussions have led to two lengthy absences.

Third, and this is my biggest question: Can you go home again? The Blackhawks have brought back Cup winners a few times, from Kris Versteeg to Andrew Ladd to Brian Campbell. Versteeg’s return here was up and down, Campbell's has been OK (there have been a few healthy scratches in there) and Ladd's didn’t work at all. Yes, six years passed from when Ladd left to when he returned; a lot changes over six years. But the bottom line is the attempt to rekindle line magic between Ladd and Jonathan Toews failed. Just wonder if this would go the same way.

We talked to Jonathan Toews on Tuesday morning and he said the back is not the issue. I don't believe it's another injury. The problem is, I don't know what the problem is. Toews has snapped out of these slumps before but this one seems to be lingering. I'm sure the confidence is shaken; how can it not be? We're all human, and even the best question themselves at times. I still think Toews will find the offense again but I don't think his current performances have anything to do with an injury.

Let's address Toews’ faceoff percentage first: it's fine. For the season, he's winning 57.5 percent of his faceoffs, good for sixth in the NHL. Outside of that awful Washington game, he's been around 50 percent or better in recent games.

Regarding Kruger, it's tough to say. The Blackhawks are looking for more balance and more scoring, and if those two categories don't improve the changes will continue regardless of who's in the lineup. Does coach Joel Quenneville go back to the third line that was working before Kruger was hurt (when he was with Dennis Rasmussen and Richard Panik)? He could. Just depends on how the Blackhawks are trending when Kruger does return.

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They could. Whether or not they do, I'm not sure yet. The Blackhawks did that with Brandon Saad back in the spring of 2012 once the Saginaw Spirit’s season ended. He played in two postseason games. My opinion, if the Blackhawks did it with anyone it would be DeBrincat. Even if he doesn't play, it’s a good chance to be around and practice with the team.

I know what you're referring to and all that article said was Vanek could be a possibility. As of Wednesday, the Red Wings are 14th in the Eastern Conference with 46 points. Sounds like they’re out of it, until you see they’re only four points from eighth place. As I said above, some of these teams are going to want to see where they are in a few weeks. As for cost, I wouldn't give up much past a pick, maybe two, but not high ones.

As of now, according to Cap Friendly, Hartman is eligible for the expansion draft. As far as the likelihood that Las Vegas takes him, it’s possible. It depends on what Vegas wants and needs. The Blackhawks, like everyone else, will lose one (and only one) player. Will Vegas want defensemen? Will they want a two-way player? But absolutely, Hartman would be available.

I'm guessing I've had a few of those and, to my recollection, I didn't dislike them. Honestly, I'm not as much of a wine aficionado as I've led the Twitter world to believe. Pinot noirs aren't my favorite (pretty light), love Malbecs, most French and Italian wines and you really have to talk me into a Chardonnay (I do like the ones that are out of steel drums now; just not a fan of the oak taste). Cheers!