Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks-Blues rivalry 'as good as it's ever been'

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Blackhawks-Blues rivalry 'as good as it's ever been'

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Pat Foley remembers Chicagos battles against the St. Louis Blues.

The Blackhawks longtime broadcaster smiles when he remembers the intensity in those games, be it regular season or playoffs. From the Dave Mansons and Mike Pelusos to the Tony Twists and Kelly Chases, from the angst among both teams fans to former Blackhawks coach Mike Keenan inadvertently locking himself in the Checkerdome office after an angry rant, it was one hell of a rivalry.

And as far as Foley is concerned, its getting like that again.

The Blues and Blackhawks rivalry is heating up, and the stakes will be high when the two squads meet on Sunday morning in Chicago as part of Hockey Day in America. The Blues and Blackhawks are fourth and sixth in the West, respectively, and the fight for prime a playoff spot just adds to the rekindled rivalry.

Its one thing to have the rivalry. Its another to have good teams in them, Foley said on Saturday. You dont want those guys to finish ahead of you and get home ice. Obviously that just puts a little bit more frosting on the cake in terms of how meaningful it is and how much those guys want it. In this sport, who wants it, how bad do you want it and what price are you willing to pay to go get it? Thats wonderful to see it come back.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, whos been behind each bench through plenty of these Chicago-St. Louis games, agrees the intensity is rising again.

The rivalry grew and right now its probably as good as its ever been, he said. They play hard, play simple, play a strong team game and theyre a physical team. I dont think were comfortable that were finally home (on Sunday). Lets make sure we use the crowd for our advantage and lets be excited about importance of the game.

The Blackhawks have been back among the leagues elite for a few seasons now. Theyre not the physical squad they once were, instead leading with their speed and skill that has scored 186 goals, second best in the West this season.

Meanwhile, St. Louis latest renaissance began the November day general manager Doug Armstrong named Ken Hitchcock coach. The Blues, who have one playoff appearance since the lockout, are now among the Wests best. Theyve done it with defense, allowing a league-low 114 goals this season (tied with the New York Rangers) and getting 12 of their 36 victories by shutout.

St. Louis has done a great job all year, especially since Hitchcock took over. They play hard and play a good team game, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. Everything weve talked about over the last month, and what weve done more so the last couple nights, is play together, play as a unit and play a good team game. We have to do that against St. Louis.

The recent Blues-Blackhawks games dont feature the fisticuffs that were so synonymous with the old-school matchups. Every now and then you see them, but its now more the Blackhawks skill vs. the Blues sandpaper. But the intensity never really left; and with the two jockeying for position among the Wests top eight, its starting to rise again.

Its not yet back to where it was when it was in the Checkerdome and the (old Chicago) Stadium. You knew it was great entertainment and it was going to be intense on a Tuesday night in November. You couldnt wait to get there, Foley said. But I think were heading in that direction again, which is awesome.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 win over Blue Jackets in preseason opener

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 win over Blue Jackets in preseason opener

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Tuesday's preseason opener:

1. Anton Forsberg sharp in debut.

The former Blue Jackets netminder who was acquired by the Blackhawks in the Artemi Panarin-Brandon Saad offseason deal shined in his first game action with his new club, stopping 38 of 40 shots he faced. Many of them were quality saves, too.

He was a perfect 14-for-14 in the first period, with eight of those coming while Columbus was on the power play, which also included a 5-on-3 stretch. He stood tall and looked comfortable in net, and it's an encouraging sign for the Blackhawks who are hoping he can become a reliable backup goaltender to ease the load off Corey Crawford.

2. Cody Franson, Jan Rutta stand out on defense.

The Blackhawks brought in Franson on a professional tryout agreement, and he didn't waste any time making his presence felt. The 30-year-old defenseman recorded four of the team's nine shots in the opening frame, all of which came on the power play, and the fourth one found the back of the net to open up the scoring. He served as a solid quarterback on the man advantage, and wasn't afraid to utilize his heavy shot.

Rutta was no different. He led all skaters with 23:52 of ice time, and was rewarded with a goal in the second period after his slapshot from the point bounced off the boards, ricocheted off the back of Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo's skate and trickled into the net. The 27-year-old Czech defenseman also registered two blocked shots and had two of the club's seven takeaways.

3. Nick Schmaltz's confidence and game continues to grow.

There is a noticeable difference in Schmaltz's confidence and game this year compared to last year. He looks bigger, faster and more confident with the puck, and his strong showing at training camp translated into the first preseason game.

Serving as the first-line center, Schmaltz led all Chicago forwards with 18:03 of ice time and spent time on both the power play and penalty kill units. He showed off his wicked wrist shot with a goal in the second period to make it 4-0, and displayed his playmaking ability by recording a primary assist on Franson's goal. He was one of four Blackhawks who had multi-point efforts in the win (Franson, Tomas Jurco and Graham Knott).

4. Blackhawks finish strong in faceoff department after rough start.

The Blackhawks ranked second-to-last in faceoff win percentage last year at 47.5, and they appeared to be headed down that path again. They opened the game 0-for-8 at the dot, but ended up finishing strong by winning 37 of the next 60 draws for a win percentage of 61.7. Matthew Highmore, Vinnie Hinostroza, Graham Knott and John Mitchell led the way by combining to go 19 of 25 (76 percent) at the circle.

5. NHL cracking down on several rules.

The league has made it clear about its intentions of laying down the law regarding a few rules and it was evident Tuesday that they won't be messing around. Seventeen penalties were called in the game, including five slashing and two faceoff violations.

Those are the two areas that will be focused on closely, the former in an effort to protect the NHL's stars and the latter to ensure a fair chance for both centers. Prepare for more whistles and power plays early on.

Pat Foley provides health update on Blackhawks analyst Eddie Olczyk

Pat Foley provides health update on Blackhawks analyst Eddie Olczyk

Blackhawks hockey returned to CSN on Tuesday when the team visited the Columbus Blue Jackets for their 2017-18 preseason opener, but a familiar voice was missing from the booth.

That would be analyst Eddie Olczyk, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in August and will take time off while he undergoes treatment.

Pat Foley took some time to provide an update on his broadcast partner before the second period of Tuesday's game after speaking with Olczyk earlier in the day.

Check it out in the video above.