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 look to bounce back vs. Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6 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. How will Blackhawks respond to worst loss of season?

The Blackhawks suffered their worst loss of the season on Saturday in a 7-0 rout at the hands of the Panthers. It was the first time they've lost by at least seven goals since 2011 when Edmonton beat them 9-2 and the first time they lost 7-0 since 2001 against San Jose; the Blackhawks lost to Washington 6-0 earlier this year. But by no means was Saturday their worst effort of the season. A questionable interference penalty by Marcus Kruger led to a two-man advantage, which Florida cashed in on with a goal and another shortly after, and it opened up the floodgates. Expect a big bounce-back against a hungry Lightning team.

2. Lightning fighting for playoff lives.

Every game is a must-win for the Lightning with eight games remaining on their schedule. They're three points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on the Bruins, who currently occupy that spot, but still have to jump the Islanders. The Lightning didn't do themselves any favors by losing three straight in regulation last week, but they've won two in a row and tonight will be the first of a four-game homestand for them.

3. Keep the puck off Nikita Kucherov's stick.

There isn't a hotter player in the NHL right now than Kucherov, who has seven goals and two assists in his last four games. He's had two hat tricks in the past month, and he ranks sixth in the league with 78 points and second in goals with 38. You know how lethal Artemi Panarin's slapshot is from the left faceoff circle? That's Kucherov, but on the right side.

4. Staying disciplined.

The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team in the league, but they acted out of character Saturday by racking up 30 penalty minutes. They were also slapped with a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties, which isn't something you normally see from Joel Quenneville's teams. Ryan Hartman, who along with Marcus Kruger was penalized for "yapping" at the officials, accepted responsibility for it after the game, and insisted it "won't happen again."

5. Special teams to play key factor?

On the flip side, the Lightning are the second-most penalized team, averaging just over 11 penalty minutes per game. Power plays will be key for the Blackhawks in an effort to keep Tampa Bay's collection of talented young goal scorers off the ice. The Lightning also boast a top-five power play unit with a 22 percent success rate. Both teams would be better served staying out of the box and making this a 5-on-5 battle.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

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- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

The Blackhawks have talked the past several games now about how they need to play better, how they need to get back to their 60-minute game. But even when you tell yourself you have to improve the message doesn't always translate into immediate action. That's especially true if, despite so-so play, you're still managing victories or still eking out a point.

Sometimes, you need a jolt to realize you have to get better. Well, that thud the Blackhawks made in South Florida ought to get their attention. 

The Blackhawks' 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, that "ugly, ugly game," as coach Joel Quenneville, is the latest in what's been a mediocre stretch for the team. They've been leaning on their goaltending again (please see Minnesota, Montreal, Ottawa and Dallas games). Or they've been leaning on their ability to wake up in the third period after sleepwalking through the first two. Sixty-minute games and four-line rotations, such a big part of the Blackhawks' success through February and early March, have been absent.

Call it the Blackhawks' mid-March malaise.

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It hasn't been more painful because the Blackhawks have still found ways to get points. Or at least they did until Saturday night, when two "yapping" penalties – Quenneville's (accurate) description of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger's unsportsmanlike calls – started the Blackhawks' demise against the Panthers. Players told the traveling media following the game that this was a wake-up call. It ought to be.

Granted, the Blackhawks' late-season issues aren't as bad as some of their fellow Western Conference teams. The Minnesota Wild are 3-10-1 in March. The San Jose Sharks have lost six in a row. This also isn't the first time the Blackhawks have gone through this late-season mediocrity.

Entering the 2015 postseason they struggled to score goals and lost four in a row (five goals in those four games). It turned out alright. Still, best to avoid bad habits.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are in a bit of a swoon because, really, there's not much for which to play in these final few games. They don't care if they win the Presidents' Trophy (and they probably won't). They're currently in first place by seven points following the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday. Whether the Blackhawks finish first or second, they'll start this postseason at home. 

So is this panic-inducing? No. Is it a concern? Certainly. The Blackhawks can't start thinking they'll automatically flip the switch as soon as the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks want to get their four-line rotation going again. Artem Anisimov returning in the next week or two will certainly help that. They want to get their overall game going again. The Blackhawks have been telling themselves what needs to be done for a few games now. Maybe they needed a wake-up call. On Saturday, they got it.