Blackhawks' depth being tested in playoffs

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Blackhawks' depth being tested in playoffs

Thursday, April 14, 2011Posted: 8:25 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia Depth. The Chicago Blackhawks used to have plenty of it. This year, what little theyve got has been tested time after time.

And now its getting tested again.

With Game 2 coming tomorrow against the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks could be down another forward. Tomas Kopecky suffered an undisclosed injury in the first period on Wednesday night and is doubtful to play tomorrow. Dave Bolland is out with his concussion.

I think as weve gone along you always get tested. You take some looks at other guys. Thats what its all about, coach Joel Quenneville said. Its someone stepping up and taking advantage of it to help the team in a positive way.

No, injuries are nothing new to any hockey team. The Blackhawks have gotten through theirs well at times despite missing Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa for most of December, Chicago was able to play above .500 hockey. But finding players to step up in key roles throughout hasnt always been easy.

Contrast their situation with that of the Canucks, who enjoyed the depth this season that the Blackhawks used to have. Vancouver had quite a few injuries among their defense corps this season. But they tapped into their farm system, which yielded strong results. Henrik Sedin called the transition seamless, as the Canucks just kept rolling through their injury issues.

Guys stepped up and played a lot of minutes. Now theyre in the press box, Sedin said. On a lot of other teams they would be playing.

This season, the Blackhawks have relied heavily on their top players to get them through injury woes. Thats fine for a while, but eventually they start to wear down. Now youve got the Vancouver Canucks recognizing that as they brought a big, physical presence in Game 1.

Over the course of a series, it wears them down, Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. We have four lines and six D rolling over right now. We have fresh legs throwing bodies out there.

And the Blackhawks are taking more abuse than theyre giving. As Quenneville said, the Hawks physical game was below average; the scoresheet showed the Canucks outhitting them 47-21 in Game 1. A lot of those hits seemed to come early when the Canucks were determined to make their presence felt. Literally.

There are no excuses on that part, defenseman Brian Campbell said on possible depth issues. You roll the next person in and go. Nobodys going to feel sorry for us and thats not going to win us a playoff series. Good teams learn how to get past that to win.

True, but the responsibilities have to be spread throughout more. The Blackhawks, down Bolland for all of Game 1 and Kopecky through most of it, leaned heavily on their best players. Patrick Kane played nearly 24 minutes, Jonathan Toews logged more than 23 and a not-100-percent Patrick Sharp played nearly 21. The Blackhawks need more from others and they havent gotten it at a sustained rate like they did last season.

The Blackhawks did their best to patch lineups through depth problems this season. A tight salary cap limiting their Rockford call-ups didnt help.

Injuries happen to every team, every season. The Canucks depth kept their top players from getting worn out. The Hawks may not be as fortunate.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.