Hawk Talk: 'Nuck, 'Nuck, Look Who's There

Hawk Talk: 'Nuck, 'Nuck, Look Who's There

Friday, April 30, 2010
8:03 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

If the Canucks keep scoring 4.17 goals per playoff game (as they did in the first round versus Los Angeles), any questions about whether Roberto Luongo can goaltend his team into a conference final for the first time in his career won't matter. And Antti Niemi will feel at least some of Luongo's pain after the Blackhawks' seven-goal Game 6 clincher last May.

Niemi and the Hawks' defense were good against Nashville. You don't get two shutouts without being good. But you're also not great if you're blowing 3-1 leads in back-to-back games en route to victories that closed out that series. No one needs to tell them the Canucks aren't (with all due respect) the Predators.

Alain Vigneault decided it was ex-Red Wing Mikael Samuelsson "on" and Alex Burrows "off" the Sedin Line going into the Kings series. The result? 12 goals, 29 points from that line alone! The Hawks' top guns seemed to feel their way around what the Predators gave them for three games, and bravely faced the criticisms as panic began to creep into Hawk Nation. They acknowledged they needed to do better, then went out and were.

Toews, Hossa, and Sharp combined for no goals and four assists those first three games (while Patrick Kane still managed a pair of goals and a helper). Then they went out and delivered the knockout punch the final three games, the trio delivering six goals and 18 points.

More times than not, however, these series need that surprise "X" Factor (especially when you're only killing 16 of 26 penalties). Vancouver got that with Steve Bernier - 11 goals in the regular season, four in six games against L.A. If the Hawks aren't killing all but one penalty over a series (and the Canucks' power play clicked on 21 percent in the regular season and 25 percent so far in the playoffs), an offensive breakout from a Bolland, Brouwer, Versteeg..or how about even Andrew Ladd?..would be a huge shot in the arm. Vancouver worked to add depth in the off-season so up to three lines could be dangerous. The Hawks already had it, to the point where all four could be legit threats. Dustin Byfuglien was their "X" Man in the series a year ago - not necessarily from a statistical standpoint, but setting a tone and message, and being a headache. Now he's back on a "fourth" line with Brouwer and John Madden. Wasn't it just two weeks ago that a fourth line including Colin Fraser and Ben Eager really carried this team into the post-season?

Luongo's post-Olympic performance included seeing five of 14 shots get past him in just 20 minutes at the United Center on March 5th. Since winning gold for Canada on his home sheet and telling Kane he wanted to see him in the playoffs again, his goals-against average was above 3, and his save percentage below .900. Things didn't seem to be going much better through less than four full games (including an early exit and two partial overtime periods) against the Kings. But do you look at the 13 shots that got past him in that time, or the fact nine were power play goals? Or both? He tightened up to help the 'Nucks close it out, allowing only a pair each in Games Five and Six. Is he back on track - just in time for this rematch that he and all of his teammates have been obsessed with over the past year?

I've used the phrase before this season; Things Change. And quickly. For the Hawks, just go back to last Saturday's game. Or Monday's first period.

Both of these teams are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. The one that doesn't find the 'Next Level' is going to be awfully heartbroken in less than two weeks. The only certainty is it'll be fun, and tense, in between.

Tomas Jurco ready for 'fresh start' with Blackhawks

Tomas Jurco ready for 'fresh start' with Blackhawks

Tomas Jurco lingered near the end of the Blackhawks' practice on Saturday, watching as fellow Slovak/now-teammate Marian Hossa drew a few things up on the dry-erase board.

Having a few familiar countrymen's faces (Hossa and Richard Panik) in the room helps. But for Jurco, just getting a fresh start is a welcome sight.

Jurco skated on the third line with Marcus Kruger and Hossa, and it looks like he'll make his Blackhawks debut there when the team hosts St. Louis on Sunday night. Jurco spent the last few seasons with the Detroit Red Wings but couldn't find a steady place in the lineup. Now here, he's hoping to change his fortunes.

"I mean, it's been tough couple of years for me in Detroit, so I was talking to [general manager] Ken Holland and we were discussing some options. I wasn't progressing in the last year or so, so I think this is a great time to push my game to another level," Jurco said on Saturday. "Like I said, this is another fresh start for me and I'm very excited for it."

[MORE: Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues]

Jurco joins a Blackhawks team that is surging (winning eight of nine) these last few weeks of the season. He and Hossa played together in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, so there's some familiarity as well as friendship there.

General manager Stan Bowman said Friday night that, based on Jurco's skills and the Blackhawks' style of play, Jurco should fit in well.

"I think he's going to get better here," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's going to get a little bit more comfortable with how we have to play, knowing that you want to go right through the puck and you want to pressure. Offensively I think he's got a chance to recapture some confidence. I think he moves well. I like his size. [It's] just getting a little more comfortable with our game and trusting his own instincts right off the bat."

It was time for a change for Jurco. Whether he blossoms like Panik, who came here from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and is now putting up career numbers as part of the Blackhawks' top line, remains to be seen. It's an opportunity nonetheless, and Jurco is ready to take advantage of it. 

"It was a number of different reasons in Detroit it didn't work out for me. I wasn't playing much, so that's obviously tough. And when you don't play for a few weeks and you play a couple of games, it's very tough," Jurco said. "I'm very happy that I'm here and excited for tomorrow."

Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues

Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues

Niklas Hjalmarsson is day-to-day with an upper-body injury but he will not play on Sunday when the Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues, coach Joel Quenneville said.

Hjalmarsson left with a little over eight minutes remaining in Thursday night's 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. He missed morning skate that day and, prior to the game, was seen wearing a wrap around his back. Whether or not that is the injury, however, is unknown. Quenneville said the Blackhawks will give Hjalmarsson time to regain full health, especially at this point of the season.

"I think he knows his body and he knows when he can fight through certain things. Giving him enough time to get back to where he's basically 100 percent is what we want," Quenneville said. "That's why he left the game last game. We want to make sure that when he comes back – you know, there's certain things you can fight through, and with him he can go through anything. Let's make sure at this time of the year that he recovers from this."

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks]

Quenneville said the Blackhawks will go with the six defensemen they currently have. The last time Hjalmarsson missed a game due to injury was late February/early March of 2012 (six games with an upper-body injury).

"He's a warrior, he gives you everything you want in a big game like tomorrow's. Certainly missed him in the last game," Quenneville said. "We haven't exposed too much not having Hammer out there in important shifts, but it's a good chance for other guys to get critical and important shifts, and hopefully that helps them in their games as well."

Briefly

- Jordin Tootoo also missed practice (illness).

- Corey Crawford will start vs. the Blues.