Boden: The hot line shouldn't be interrupted

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Boden: The hot line shouldn't be interrupted

Friday, March 4, 2011
12:30 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

One glance out at the United Center ice at this morning's game-day skate brought a sense of...Hmmm. If not, "Uh-oh."

The league's hottest player right now, Jonathan Toews, and the left wing on the league's hottest line, Patrick Sharp, were nowhere to be found. Patrick Kane skated with whomever would take him along.

Not to worry, however. Head Coach Joel Quenneville indicated afterward that both, along with defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, were just nursing some aches and pains and are expected to face the Carolina Hurricanes tonight.

"Both of them are just taking a rest from practice, nursing some things," Kane said. "I expect 'em both to be back and be in there."

Corey Crawford will make his NHL career-high 10th consecutive start, though Quenneville admits with three back-to-backs over the next seven games, his workload will be something that's addressed game-by-game.

It's also the beginning of a five-game stretch against the East after playing the last five weeks exclusively against the West, except for one game. The Hurricanes come to town following an emotional home overtime win against Buffalo, which inched them up to 7th in that conference. Tomorrow night, the Hawks open a four-game trip versus a Toronto team that's surged back into contention by going 10-2-4 since the All-Star break. Since the Hawks haven't faced the Canes since last January, when goalie Cam Ward stood on his head against them, newcomer Chris Campoli faced them three times this season with Ottawa.

"It's a young team, high-paced, aggressive. They come at you in waves and you definitely can't take them lightly. This game's just as big for them as it is for us. They've got some guys to key on. If we give them low-percentage chances we'll have success."

"Look at the standings," Campoli's defensive partner, Brian Campbell, said. "We've won six in a row and two points up in the playoffs and we know how quickly it can be taken away. Obviously Carolina's fighting for the playoffs too, so it's a big contest for us.."

"It's a different style out there in the East," Kane added. "A little bit different than what we're used to here in the West. Carolina needs to win, we need to win. It comes down to getting two points."

That's the message Quenneville hopes everyone in his locker room understands.

"You look at where they're at - the same boat. It's a fast team with guys who make plays and score goals. The approach has to be the same as the last four games - the same intensity and attitude. These other teams have a lot at stake as well."

Eighteen-year-old Jeff Skinner leads all rookies in scoring with 48 points, including 22 goals. The 7th overall draft pick last June is tied for the league lead in rookie power play points with 16.

One Week from Today

The Blackhawks will be hanging with President Obama next Friday after the official announcement came down yesterday.

"It's pretty cool," Campbell said. "We're all excited about it and getting to shake hands with the President will be something special. I've got a picture with President Clinton and I want to add to the collection, so I'm looking forward to it."

Kane will be reunited with an old friend.

"For some reason he wanted to talk to me after the (Stanley Cup-clinching) game, and I remember we were doing our team photo with the Cup (at the United Center two days later), and we had to interrupt it for about two minutes. It's pretty exciting. I'll probably bring my FlipCam and take it all in. We should have some good memories."

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.

What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...

What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.

[RELATED: Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes]

Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.

He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup. 

By the Numbers: 

6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.

342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.

35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.

1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.

Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes

Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes

It seems like ages ago when the Blackhawks struggled to score goals.

Line combinations were scattered, production was low and the Blackhawks were relying heavily on their goaltending. Now, however, the offense is rolling and the Minnesota Wild are back within striking distance.

Patrick Kane had a hat trick and Michal Rozsival's first goal of the season proved to be the game winner as the Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night. The Blackhawks have now won eight of their last nine and are just three points back of the Wild, who are on their bye week.

Kane's hat trick came one game after Jonathan Toews recorded one against the Wild. It was the second time the Blackhawks have had hat tricks in consecutive games since May 5-7, 2010 (Dustin Byfuglien and Toews vs. Vancouver in the postseason that year).

With the victory, however, came a loss. Niklas Hjalmarsson pulled up in the first period with an upper-body injury. Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson will be re-evaluated today – "we're hoping he's going to be OK but not sure," Quenneville added.

Nick Schmaltz (celebrating his 21st birthday) and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and an assist. Toews had two assists. Corey Crawford stopped 34 of 37 shots in the victory.

[RELATED: Niklas Hjalmarsson to be re-evaluated Friday after suffering upper-body injury]

The Blackhawks got their offense on track on their Ice Show trip and, outside of their 3-1 loss to Edmonton out of the break, the production has been steady. That continued on Thursday as they tallied six more goals, including Kane's third career regular-season hat trick. That just so happened to come one game after Jonathan Toews had a hat trick against the Wild.

"Yeah, we were kind of laughing about that on the bench there after I scored the third one. It's funny how it worked out," Kane said. "Those guys played amazing in a huge game. Jonny with five points and a plus-5. You can look across the board at that line – they've been playing awesome. I'm just trying to contribute in any way I can and hopefully let them lead the way and just follow up after that."

But as Quenneville said, the Blackhawks were a little more loose on the other end than they'd been in recent games. The Coyotes took advantage of that, erasing the Blackhawks' 3-1 lead and tying it 3-3 by the end of the first period. 

Rozsival, dressed as a precaution with Hjalmarsson apparently ailing, got the game winner 2:56 into the second period. The goal helped Rozsival, who hadn't played since Jan. 15, get over a bad first. 

"I did not have a good start to the game, I think I was minus-2 in my first for shifts. It didn't go the way I wanted early on but in the second period, when I scored that goal, I got my confidence back a little bit," said Rozsival, who missed four weeks with a foot injury. "Even the coaches put a little more trust in me and I was able to finish the game. At the end, we were able to win. That's the most important thing, so definitely big win."

The Blackhawks are on a roll right now. How Hjalmarsson is, and how that affects the team defensively moving forward, remains to be seen. Obviously, that would be a big loss. But offensively the Blackhawks are doing a lot of things right, and another productive game has them closing in on the Wild.

"We're chasing [the Wild] and they have a bye week, so we're trying to close the gap as much as we can," Schmaltz said. "These are huge games for us. We have a little stretch at home so we want to take advantage of it."