Hawk Talk: Calm Hawks ooze optimism

Hawk Talk: Calm Hawks ooze optimism

Sunday, June 6, 2010
5:48 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com
CHICAGO With the momentum of the Stanley Cup Finals having swung completely to the side of the Philadelphia Flyers, is there anything that can comfort the Chicago Blackhawks?

Theres a lot to hearten the team, actually, as the Redshirts reflected during Sundays morning skate and postgame media session.

Every Blackhawk was smiling on the ice. Forward Dustin Byfuglien chirped throughout drills, goaltender Antti Niemi reacted demonstratively toward scores in two-on-one drills at the end of practice, and the chorus of shooters during the drill was loud with cheers and boos for goals and misses.

Hey, one Blackhawk even demonstrated the good sense to chuck a puck 20 rows up in the direction of unpopular anti-Hawks analyst Pierre McGuire.

All year, if you watch us in practice, there are a lot of smiles out there, Chicago winger Patrick Kane said. It shouldnt be any different now.

It wasnt all just grins and giggles on the ice, however. Coach Joel Quenneville kept prospective line changes (including the possibilities of Kane and Jonathan Toews being split up on the top line, Byfuglien and Troy Brouwer flipping spots and Colin Fraser, Adam Burish, or Jordan Hendry being reintroduced to the lineup) well obscured, beginning drills with his standard Finals lines and mixing it up randomly as the skate went on.

Brouwer admitted afterward that the team hadnt been told anything regarding possible line changes for Game 5. Andrew Ladd and Duncan Keith didnt skate, but both are expected to be in the lineup for Game 5.

Kane and his teammates didnt feel that a lineup shuffle would harm the Hawks in any way. Weve all played with different people all year, Crazy 88 said. Splitting up me and Jonny Toews gives Philadelphia more to have to pick and choose from on defense.

As for the pressure the club was supposed to be feeling, it wasnt evident on the faces of the Hometown Heroes.

Theres only as much pressure on us as we want to put on ourselves, Brouwer said. This is a big swing game. Theres no room for nerves.

The Flyers probably feel they have pressure on themselves, too, said Kane, who was at his most subdued in this pregame media session.

Meanwhile, a defensive leader and a slice-and-dice winger kept the circumstances in the proper perspective.

Were in a great situation, defenseman Brian Campbell said. Were playing hockey in June. Its a lot of fun. The veteran they call Soupy also rather charmingly offered a betrayal of how immersed hes been in hockey by pegging todays date as June 4.

If you would have told us before the season that wed be in the Stanley Cup Finals and tied 2-2 with two games still to play at home, we would have been pretty happy with that, Kane said.

And if theres no comfort in the words of the Hometown Heroes, how about a factoid that is undeniably heartening if youre a Blackhawks rooter: In the history of best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals, teams winning Games 1 and 2 at home as the Hawks did and losing Games 3 and 4 again, Chicago did this are 9-0 in Game 5.

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."