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.

In wake of first-round playoff sweep, Patrick Kane talks about the Blackhawks' 'reality check'

In wake of first-round playoff sweep, Patrick Kane talks about the Blackhawks' 'reality check'

It’s been just over a month since the Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs in swift fashion. And as Patrick Kane told WGN Radio on Tuesday morning, the bitter taste hasn’t gone away.

“I think a lot of us didn’t figure we’d be in the situation we’re in right now,” Kane told Steve Cochran and Dave Eanet on Tuesday. “All of us can work this offseason to get better. It’s a long time to wait to get back to that opportunity to play in the playoffs again, so we’ll have a sour taste in our mouth for a while.”

The Nashville Predators, who made quick work of the Blackhawks in the first round, eliminated the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night to earn the first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. Kane told WGN he’s been watching the playoffs and said Nashville “has a pretty good system going.”

“They come at you, they play aggressive. I don’t think any of us would be a big fan of the way they defend in the neutral zone, just sitting back and playing that 1-3-1. But at the same time they come at you,” said Kane, who added that the Blackhawks “weren’t even close in that (first-round) series.”

“Maybe we had a chance in Game 3 when we were up 2-0, but it was a clean sweep and that’s probably how it should’ve been,” he said. “So now it’s time to regroup.”

When the Blackhawks had their wrap-up media session on April 22, general manager Stan Bowman was asked if some players, having won three Stanley Cups since 2010, had lost some of the hunger. Bowman didn’t buy that and neither did Kane.

“Four sounds a lot better than three, right?” he said. “It’s a long time away and a lot of work, but sometimes you go through those situations and you realize you won three Cups and it’s almost like you’re going to be there again. That’s where the reality check is for us now, realizing how hard it is to get back in that situation, how hard it is to win a Cup or go deep in this league. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

On April 22, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman vented his frustrations on the team’s all-too-abrupt exit from the postseason, adding that he and coach Joel Quenneville, “are going to work together to make sure that this never happens again.”

There will be plenty of decisions for the two to mull between now and September, when the Blackhawks convene for training camp. When it comes to the assistant head coach vacancy, however, that might need to be decided with a more one-sided approach. That choice ultimately should be made by Quenneville.

In a recent podcast, Pat Boyle and I discussed the Blackhawks’ need to work together on some upcoming decisions. But with the assistant coach, the head coach has to have the loudest voice. The head coach probably should even have the final vote. The relationship between coaches has to be there because they’re around each other constantly. They’ve got to be on the same page. There has to be trust from Day 1.

As for when the Blackhawks name that assistant, there appears to be nothing imminent. A source said Monday that the Blackhawks and Ulf Samuelsson have been in communication about the job — Chris Kuc of the Tribune first reported on Samuelsson on Sunday. On paper it looks like it would be a great fit. Samuelsson and Quenneville played several seasons together with the Hartford Whalers, along with current Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen. The relationship with Samuelsson has been there for a long time and it would make for a smoother transition. It might also provide somewhat of a panacea for Quenneville after former assistant Mike Kitchen, whose friendship with Quenneville also went back to their playing days, was fired last month.

Earlier this month Bowman told the Sun-Times that Quenneville will have a big role in the Blackhawks’ finding their next assistant coach, with the final choice being a “joint collaboration.” We get that there’s an order to these things and everyone has to be in agreement with the final decision. But in the end the head coach has to be 100-percent happy with his immediate staff. So whoever the next assistant coach is, the decision has to be 100 percent Quenneville’s.