Hawk Talk: Balancing acts for Cup defense

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Hawk Talk: Balancing acts for Cup defense

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted 4:51 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The Hockey Gods giveth and taketh. In the end - unless a team's completely snake-bitten - the bounces, the calls, and the reviews even out.

All you have to do is look at what's happened with the Blackhawks the past ten days.

March 28: Detroit could've argued why a hooking call was made against Henrik Zetterberg in the closing seconds of regulation, leading to Marian Hossa's game-winning, overtime power play goal.

Tuesday in Montreal, the overtime call against Jonathan Toews seemed (to me) borderline at best, not to mention a couple of seconds after the Bell Centre crowd began screaming its disapproval.

An even bigger issue for me is, if there's an unwritten code for players who've gained the so-called benefit of the doubt on such calls, in those crucial situations, hasn't Toews earned it? Especially against a rookie?

Twenty-four hours later, the Hawks were smiled upon by the inconclusive video review of Hossa's goal, between the skate, the crawl across the goal line, and whether his stick glanced off the puck after contact with the skate. Once the puck completed its trek to the opposite post, it headed inside the net as Ty Conklin tried to cover it up.

By the time Toronto decided it couldn't overturn the on-ice call, the Zamboni could've supplied a completely clean sheet of ice.

Patrick Sharp assisted on that goal after forcing himself to return earlier than he probably should've. Based on his goal total and magazine-cover status, his toughness factor can be overlooked. But he doesn't wear an "A" without reason, and was probably as tired as the rest of us watching the offense limp as he limped around. After just two brief test skates Tuesday and Wednesday morning, he decided the most important game of the year was the time to bite the bullet, suit up, and then led the team with four hits in 19 12 minutes of action.

His return also allowed the rest of the lineup get closer to its comfort zone - where it hasn't been since Sharp joined Dave Bolland on the sideline. That's another thing that showed up on the stat sheet. Patrick Kane, Toews, Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook had combined for 10 goals and 28 points after Sharp was helped off the ice in Phoenix, and became the subject of increasing defensive awareness by opponents.

Hard, pressure-packed minutes became even harder as everyone else on the roster in that span had combined for four goals and 13 points. Once the Hossa ruling came, that secondary group finished the night with two goals and six points.

I wrote at the start of the season that by the time we got to this last week, the team's post-season success would depend on health and the newcomers adapting and fitting into roles the departed Cup-winners supplied. They'd started to do it in that eight-game winning streak, prior to the Bolland and Sharp injuries.

I didn't write anything about how difficult it would be to qualify. It's probably fitting that a team that's been one of the biggest thorns in the Hawks' side this season (Dallas) is the last one they're racing to the finish line.

It's a nice confidence boost heading to Detroit, where they should have a good feeling anyway. They've won in their last four trips to Joe Louis Arena, and grabbing three of a possible four points in their final back-to-back versus the Habs and Blues can only help a psyche that almost certainly was being tested.

Through 80 games, there's still work to be done. If the Blackhawks finish that job and get to defend their Stanley Cup, I'm curious to see how the group responds to being able to hit the "reset" button and fill up their tanks again mentally and, hopefully, physically.

And they'd only have to worry about one team they're playing in that round, and not the multiple teams they've been battling for the opportunity to play beyond Sunday.

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

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.