Bieksa carrying on Rypien's legacy with mindcheck.ca

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Bieksa carrying on Rypien's legacy with mindcheck.ca

VANCOUVER Kevin Bieksa is a tough guy, playing in a tough-guy league.

Be strong, keep a stiff upper lip: thats the mantra of so many sporting types. Talking about sensitive subjects, such as a serious illness like depression, happens rarely.

Bieksa, for one, has had enough of the silence in and out of the locker room. The Vancouver Canucks defenseman lost one of his best friends, Rick Rypien, last summer when the young forward committed suicide after a long battle with depression. So Bieksa is doing his part to help shed the keep-quiet stigma of mental illnesses.

One week ago Bieksa spear-headed the relaunch of mindcheck.ca, a website designed to bring more awareness and get people talking about mental illnesses. The site features various categories as well as a Reality Check quiz to help people identify symptoms.

Bieksa said it was important that he do this for Rypien, who wanted to help others battling the same illness he was.

What he always talked about doing was giving back, doing something that could help other kids who were in the same situation as him, sharing his story and struggles, he said. This is just kind of lending that ear, showing there are other people out there. Its kind of me carrying on Ricks legacy.

And it needed to be done. The stigma surrounding mental illness goes well beyond sports locker rooms. Millions suffer from depression, yet there is not nearly enough awareness, or talk, about it.

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman John Scott lost his close friend, enforcer Derek Boogaard, to an overdose last summer. Boogaard was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy a degenerative brain disease that can cause dementia, depression and memory loss. Scott commended Bieksa for his work with the website.

Its so hidden, especially among athletes, Scott said of the stigma. We try to be so tough, to hide everything and not show feelings around the guys. Just to make it known that lots of people deal with it, its needed.

Scott admitted he was affected by Boogaards death.

Ive had nights where I was depressed; luckily I had my wife to talk to, he said. A lot of guys dont have someone to bounce feelings off of. Its good that its starting to come out into the open. Its good of Kevin to do that.

Response has been strong. Bieksa said he didnt have the exact numbers, but he estimated that mindcheck.ca gets more than 40,000 visitors a day now compared to the few hundred per day it got previously. Teammate Henrik Sedin wore a mindcheck.ca T-shirt at the All-Star festivities in Ottawa last weekend.

Bieksa has also received heartfelt messages on his Twitter account.

A lot of people are saying how much they appreciate it, that its a good idea. Some people are admitting theyre currently struggling with depression or anxiety and the website is a great help, he said. That means a lot to get those responses.

The mindcheck.ca website is bringing awareness to mental illness. It could save lives. Bieksa is doing it this for everyone but especially for his friend who never got the chance.

(Rypien) kind of became a brother to me. I got close with him and his family, he said. Its obviously the biggest loss Ive ever had to endure.

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.