Boden: Penguins' pain threshold

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Boden: Penguins' pain threshold

A year ago, the Blackhawks had 144 man games lost to injury. This year, they've had all of 22. Pittsburgh had well over 300 a year ago. They've had more than 160 this year.

Brent Seabrook, who suffered a nasty, illegal hit at the hands of Rene Bourque during Sunday night's game, did travel with the Blackhawks to Pittsburgh but it's unknown if he will play Tuesday. Bourque received a two-game suspension from the NHL on Monday.

Even with this injury, the Blackhawks can count their blessings with how healthy they've been. But they can also look across the ice Tuesday night and see the team that's been best at handling health issues. Sidney Crosby has missed 25 games and still has only faced the Hawks just twice in his career (none in the past five seasons). All-Star defenseman Kris Letang's missed 11 games total, and hasn't played since Thanksgiving weekend. Same goes for fellow blueliner Zbynek Michalek. Evgeni Malkin missed seven games earlier. There are others. Those are just the bigger names. But the Penguins came into Monday tied for the fourth-best point total in the East -- after losing four of their last six. They lost those 300-plus man-games a year ago, and Dan Bylsma amazingly led them to the second-highest point total in the East before exiting in the first round of the playoffs. Think of the Hawks playing without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane a year ago.

"They've learned how to play without their star players and it shows that they don't give anybody easy games," said Toews. "When it comes to playing Eastern Conference teams we're not used to seeing it comes down to us and our preparation. We've been playing much better, getting the starts we need, we've been (penalty-) killing better and paying better attention to detail. When we do that, our skill takes over."

"They're right at the top of their conference and play well with whoever they have in their lineup," added Duncan Keith. "We know it's gonna be a tough game. It'll be exciting to go into Pittsburgh and play our first game in their new building."

Joel Quenneville, who reached the 600-coaching-win mark Sunday night quicker than anyone in NHL history except for the legendary Scotty Bowman, speaks of highly of what Bylsma's been able to pull off.

"You gotta commend them with how well they play their team game and their commitment for doing the right things all over the ice. They play hard and play a physical brand and don't give you a lot of time or space. Everybody's kind of stepped up to the challenge of missing key guys and finding ways to win. It's not easy to do over long periods of time even though I think initially you might get a little jolt out of it, but you have to commend them over sustaining it over time."

But the Hawks who've been playing for Quenneville almost 3-12 seasons -- particularly two of the guys who have letters on the front of their jerseys -- know what they have in their leader after they helped him reach that milestone Sunday.

"You don't get to that point without knowing a thing or two about hockey," said Toews. "He's done nothing but good things since coming into this locker room. I think for the guys in here, you take satisfaction in getting wins like (Sunday's) for your coach, knowing what he puts into our team every single day."

Said Keith: "He's been huge, coming in here and settling down our team. He really gave us that experience and leadership and capped it off with the Cup. 600 wins is a lot of wins. It's impressive, and I don't think it's a coincidence when you get that many."

If you think about it, Quenneville just turned 53 in September. Would he coach, say, another ten years? While appearing to handle the stress of the job quite well on the exterior, who knows what toll it takes (see last year's missed time that seemed to surprise everyone). But he's been at this awhile. Every coach in every sport has a "shelf life," but with this Blackhawks core in place the next few years, how high can his win total go? The 21 victories this year put him fourth in club history with 159, three behind Rudy Pilous, and 23 behind Bob Pulford, so he very well could become the second-winningest coach in franchise history before the season is out. Billy Reay's 516 victories tops the organization.

Ed Belfour reflects on fulfilling 'childhood dream' of playing for Blackhawks

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AP

Ed Belfour reflects on fulfilling 'childhood dream' of playing for Blackhawks

While Troy Murray was attending summer school at the University of North Dakota he was also working out in offseason skates and practices there. Getting goaltenders for those skates wasn't easy. But a guy from Carman, Manitoba would drive down to Grand Forks, N.D., play in those games and then drive back home that night.

That guy was Eddie Belfour.

"He'd come in, put his gear on, and we thought this was just some kid that came from somewhere and, ‘Hey, thanks for coming, kid.' Little did we know, that's how he was making himself better," said Murray, who would later play with Belfour with the Blackhawks. "He walked onto UND, made there and the rest is history in how good he was at the collegiate level and as a pro."

The drive was there for Belfour then and it lasted throughout his career, which included eight seasons with the Blackhawks, a gold medal with Team Canada in the 2002 Olympics and a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999. On Thursday night the Blackhawks honored Belfour in their latest installment of "One More Shift."

For Belfour, it was a chance to be back where it all started – "it's always emotional coming back to Chicago. I had a lot of great times here," he said – with his favorite childhood team.

"The fans are always fantastic for me here in Chicago. I'll never forget the "Eddie, Eddie" chant. They're the ones who started it," Belfour said prior to taking his shift. "For me, getting a chance to play in Chicago stadium in front of the fans and how close they were and how loud the building was and the anthem was amazing. It was boyhood dream come true."

Ask Belfour's former teammates how best to describe the goaltender and the answer was pretty unanimous: intense.

"Intense is a good word. I think competitive is a really good word, too, because he was one of the few guys, few goalies who took working out very seriously [then]," Steve Konroyd said. "He used to train for triathlons, and this was in the late 80s, early 90s. For NHL players that was probably odd, but for NHL goaltenders that was crazy. He was ultra-competitive, different in ways but in a good way. He was a real character."

Denis Savard said Belfour's preparation for games was, "second to none."

"He always came prepared for a game, from focusing on that night and sharpening his own skates. He'd work on his own skates after practices sometimes for two hours. He was very meticulous about everything," Savard said. "We already know goaltenders are on their own program with how they prepare, but he was a special one. He was a battler, he was a winner and he was a great goalie for a long time."

Murray would face Belfour in 1996, when Murray was with the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche and Belfour was still with the Blackhawks. Patrick Roy got the best of that postseason series (Belfour led the Stars past the Avalanche in 1999 and 2000 playoff matchups). But Murray remembers Roy's confidence no matter who was in the other net, and Belfour had that same mentality.

"You need that as a goaltender. You want that challenge," Murray said. "You have to have that mindset because if you think you're second best, you're not going to succeed. That's what drives all these great players and Eddie had that mindset."

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For Belfour, those Chicago days were bittersweet. His first trip to the Stanley Cup final came with the Blackhawks. There were a lot of great times. There were a lot of tough times. But it was all worth it.

"Going to the Stanley Cup final was awesome to do in my first couple of years. Unfortunately, we didn't win and that's probably my biggest regret is that we didn't play well. It still haunts me some days," Belfour said. "But that happens sometimes when you're a younger player and you learn from it and get better. That's what I tried to do."

Belfour's body of work speaks for itself. The kid who first started honing his craft in pickup games at North Dakota had a tremendous NHL career. As for that competitiveness, he's still got it – even in jest.

"I was joking, ‘If I'm doing this [One More Shift], I gotta play at least five minutes,'" he said.

Blackhawks, Tanner Kero agree to two-year contract extension

Blackhawks, Tanner Kero agree to two-year contract extension

The Blackhawks have agreed to terms with Tanner Kero on a two-year contract extension that runs through the 2018-19 campaign, the team announced Thursday.

Kero, 24, has five goals and seven assists in 38 games with the Blackhawks this season, along with six goals and nine assists in 55 games across two seasons.

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He has become a reliable, versatile forward on the bottom six for Joel Quenneville and has also played a role in the team's penalty-kill unit that has been terrific in March after a rough start to the year.

Kero signed a two-year deal that carries a $667,500 cap hit with the Blackhawks on April 2, 2015, as an undrafted free agent.