Ballantini: Blackhawks postseason All-Stars

188565.jpg

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.

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Yanic Perreault came onto the ice as the Blackhawks wrapped up practice on Thursday.

It’s been a relatively common sight the last few seasons. Most of the time, Perreault has helped out when a particular player is struggling from the faceoff dot. That was true with Artem Anisimov earlier this season. But with Jonathan Toews sidelined the Blackhawks have been even more focused on improving upon and winning faceoffs. Thanks to the extra diligence, they’ve done that.

The Blackhawks’ overall faceoff performance has steadily improved. They’ll see how it goes again on Friday night when they face the New York Rangers, their eighth consecutive game without Toews.

“We’re working almost every practice and trying to get better on faceoffs,” Anisimov said on Thursday. “If we win the faceoff, we start with the puck and it’s pretty good. You can go to the offensive zone or win in the offensive zone you start with the puck and you have the opportunity to shoot the puck all day and get chances. It’s a big part of the game.”

Enter Perreault, who was a great faceoff man during his NHL career. The Blackhawks players say Perreault offers a wealth of information in each session.

“It’s different every day. The whole science behind it, he’s been great since he was brought in,” Marcus Kruger said. “He always has something new he wants us to work on, whether it’s just timing or body-positioning or something like that. It’s a lot of different stuff and we work on new stuff every day.”

Rasmussen agreed.

“It’s a lot of things you can work on,” he said. “You try to work on being in a low position so you get stronger. [There are] a lot of small things on how you can go against other guys that do it certain way, and you have to find your own way, too.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Their first game without Toews, against the Anaheim Ducks, was dismal. Part of that is the Ducks having some tremendous face-off guys. But Toews is the Blackhawks’ best at the dot – he’s won 60.3 percent of the time this season – so that first game without him was rough.

Here’s how things have progressed for the Blackhawks, with faceoffs won and lost and percentage, in Toews’ absence.

Opponent Wins-Losses Percent
Ducks 18-49 27 percent
Kings 21-37 36 percent
Panthers 39-35 53 percent
Devils 22-27 45 percent
Flyers 22-31 42 percent
Jets 31-27 53 percent
Coyotes 30-28 52 percent

So yes, there’s been improvement.

“I think we hold our own,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Yan works well with our center men, they take pride in trying to be the best they can and now they’re taking some important faceoffs and some they probably haven’t taken in the past, whether they’re defensive or special-teams faceoffs. They’ve all won some important faceoffs for us at key times, too.”

The Blackhawks have done their best filling the void left by Toews, especially on faceoffs. There’s been a lot of work put into it, especially with Perreault following practices. But the results have been there.

“We know we’d like to start with the puck, and we had a couple of tough games when Jonny went down initially,” Quenneville said. “But it’s been much better since.”

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Brent Seabrook is out and Jonathan Toews will miss his eighth consecutive game when the Blackhawks host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

Seabrook suffered an upper-body injury in the second period of the Blackhawks’ 4-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night. The defenseman fell awkwardly along the boards and was down for a few moments. Coach Joel Quenneville said Seabrook is day-to-day. Quenneville added he’ll decide tomorrow who takes Seabrook’s place in the lineup.

“Seabs has played really well for us on the back end this year and we’ll definitely miss his contributions,” Quenneville said. “We’re looking for someone to step in.”

Toews is feeling better and could skate on Friday. Quenneville would not rule out the possibility of Toews returning Sunday against the Dallas Stars.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

Duncan Keith did not practice on Thursday but he’s expected to play vs. the Rangers. Scott Darling will start.

Quenneville said Corey Crawford, who had an appendectomy on Saturday, is “status quo.”

Meanwhile, Nick Schmaltz, who was assigned to Rockford over the weekend, scored two goals in the IceHogs’ 3-2 loss to the San Antonio Rampage.

“I talked to Norm (Maciver, Blackhawks assistant general manager) about his game, they were extremely happy with how he played,” Quenneville said of Schmaltz. “He scored twice and there could’ve been more.”