Hawk Talk: Second season off second chance

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Hawk Talk: Second season off second chance

Monday, April 11, 2011Posted: 7:10 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

No matter how much it hurt, the sun was still going to come up Monday.

Turns out, even though it was still overcast in the Chicago area this morning, the new day, and new life, couldnt have been shining any brighter for the Blackhawks. Consider their thank-you note in the mail for the Minnesota Wild, whose coach (Todd Richards) was still fired after their 4-3 win Sunday night over Dallas punched the defending champs ticket back to the post-season. Monday, there was a plane to catch for Vancouver for Wednesdays opener of the best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Obviously, youre praying Minnesotas gonna win. It was tough after our game, said Patrick Kane, who watched the game at home with his parents, who were in town. You feel like you kind of gave it away, and to have second life, maybe its one of those things we can appreciate now.

I was at home, watching TV with my brother, added last Junes Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Toews. I was kinda texting Sharpie, and hes like, Whats wrong with you? How come youre not watching the game? I started watching the second half. I honestly couldnt believe it.

For Duncan Keith, the phrase backing-in doesnt apply.

I definitely feel fortunate they (Dallas) didnt win, but at the same time, looking at the standings we deserve to be in. You go by points, we have more points than Dallas. It was definitely nerve-wracking watching that game, hoping they wouldnt get two more points. Having said that, we want to make the most of this opportunity.

The Blackhawks have been the Canucks demon the last two years, sending them into the off-season. Its Vancouvers pressure-cooked opportunity to exorcise the ghosts of the last two springs. Its the Hawks opportunity to approach this series with a nothing-to-lose, underdog mentality. Theyve been dealing with their own pressures the last three months in the wild West just to get back into the playoffs.

We dont spend every day in Vancouver, but definitely when youre there you get the feeling that they feel this is the year for their team, according to Toews. They had a great regular season. Youve got to think theyre putting a lot of pressure on themselves to win the whole thing. We dont feel like the underdog, but its easy to play that role a little bit go out there and try to make things as tough as we can for their team.

Theyre first in the league, and we just snuck into the playoffs, so obviously theyre the team I thinks got more pressure than us as far as trying to get through and win the Cup, offered Keith.

Chris Kamka from our Comcast SportsNet staff researched that since the NHL went to its current playoff format in 1994, there have been nine 8 over 1 seeded upsets, including one in each of the last two years. Back in 2006, the Edmonton Oilers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose in the seventh game to Carolina, still the last team not to make the playoffs the season after winning the title. The only time the Blackhawks were an 8th seed in that format was in 1997, when they lost, four games to two, to Colorado.

If the Blackhawks are to make it ten, theyll have to do it without at least two key ingredients to their success against the Canucks off-season departures Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. The latter, in particular, was the Nucks Nightmare. Byfuglien collected six goals and nine points in the last eight playoff encounters, and screened and jostled his way onto goalie Roberto Luongos doorstep, leading to many other goals.

Its a new look, its a new team, said head coach Joel Quenneville. But certainly being around the guys who have that experience theres things that can be related to these guys. Getting (them) exposed to the excitement and the emotions of playoff hockey can raise the pace of that 82-game grind and find that one more hurdle I think that can help us across the board, as well.

Another crucial component was Dave Bollands defense on the high-scoring Sedin twins, increasing their frustration factor as those series have gone on. Bolland missed the last 14 regular season games with a concussion, but returned to non-contact practice Saturday. Troy Brouwer, the Vancouver-area native whos capable of providing a net presence, missed the final three games after sustaining an upper-body injury last Tuesday in Montreal. Both traveled with the team to British Columbia Monday, and Quenneville said he expects both to play at some point in the series.

Other things to Mull-et

Kane said the first thing he did after the Wild win was call his barber, get him to open his downtown shop, and get a fresh mullet, his signature styling during last springs Stanley Cup run. Yes, he has the steps carved into the sides, above the ears. Toews claimed Viktor Stalberg was particularly excited about growing a playoff beard. He might be a candidate for strongest facial showing in this group, following the departures of Ladd and John Madden. But Kane had an interesting theory, stating 20-year-old Nick Leddy sports whiskers of a 38-year-old. Kane thought another 20-year-old, Marcus Kruger, might have the toughest time growing one.

The Hawks recalled four players from Rockford to have available for injury insurance in the playoffs: Forward Jeff Taffe, who played in one regular season game for the Hawks, defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who played in 36 games with the big club before Leddys recall after the first of the year, veteran defenseman Garnet Exelby, and goalie Hannu Toivinen.

The Hawks signed defenseman Joe Lavin, a fifth-round draft pick in 2006 (126th overall) to a two-year contract, beginning with the 2011-2012 season. The 21-year-old captained Notre Dame to the Frozen Four this past weekend.

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

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

When you're on a roll, you hate disrupting it for anything.

The Blackhawks probably felt that in some respect heading into the new NHL-mandated bye week on Feb. 12, but the need for rest usurped any worry on that front. Still, when the Blackhawks reconvened last Friday, the question remained if they could pick up where they left off on that pre-bye, five-game winning streak.

As coach Joel Quenneville said of the unusual break, "we talked about it going into it: you don't know how you're going to come out of it."

Apparently it hasn't been a problem.

The Blackhawks have won two of their first three out of the bye, including their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Coming out of this break hasn't been easy for a lot of teams. The Blackhawks, like 11 other teams up to this point, lost their first game out of it. But in that loss to Edmonton, the Blackhawks played well. That continued on Sunday in Buffalo and on Tuesday in Minnesota. Now back in a rhythm schedule-wise, the Blackhawks are hitting their stride performance-wise.

"I thought we played a good game against Edmonton but we still felt there'd be some good will down the road. I thought we continued on with these next two on the road, probably played the same way going into it. So it's been a good stretch for us, and much better than we were at the beginning of the year," Quenneville said. "I like the improvement in our game."

A big part of the Blackhawks' success is finding their four-line rotation.

Jonathan Toews was joined by Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik early in the Ice Show trip, the three were given time to mesh and it's paying productive dividends. The second line is always a threat. Their third and fourth lines are a great combination of defense, skill and youth.

As the lines have started rolling, so have the Blackhawks. Each line had someone score against Buffalo. The top line thrived vs. the Wild. 

"I think all year we kind of expected the offense, coming from Arty's [Artem Anisimov's] line and maybe my line, but what's making us a really good team is our third and fourth line going out there and just battling every shift, just working, giving other teams no time, no chance to make plays with the puck," Toews said. "I think when you can rotate four lines like that, everyone starts to pick up their pace and their speed and then you just rotate in and it doesn't matter who scores on a given night. We're getting contributions from all over the place and it makes you a dangerous team and a tough team to beat."

Instead of taking steam out of the Blackhawks' sails, the bye appears to have re-energized them.

"Yeah it was good for our team," Ryan Hartman said. "We had a few guys who didn't get [rest during] the all-star break. They were still playing, and it was nice for those guys to get away from the rink and kind of get in the sun and take your mind of hockey for a bit, refresh the brain and body. I think we all needed those couple days of rest. As it's looked the last couple of games we've looked fresh and we've been bringing it almost a full 60. I wouldn't say we're quite playing a full 60 but we're really close and that was crucial for us."

Playing a full 60 was one of the Blackhawks' biggest problems earlier this season. Much like the four-line rotation, it's showing up at the right time. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity this week to get closer to the Wild, who started their break on Wednesday.

The issues that plagued the Blackhawks earlier this season are starting to dissipate. They weren't sure how they were going to come out of this break. So far, they've followed rest and relaxation with a rejuvenated game. 

"We're just rolling four lines now. Every line can score and every line's playing the best hockey," Panik said. "That's helped us."

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

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Jonathan Toews has five-point night, including a hat trick, in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Report: Bears seeking trade partners for Jay Cutler

Bulls Talk Podcast: What is the Bulls' approach at the trade deadline?

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

White Sox Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with executive vice president Ken Williams

Northwestern's offense nowhere to be found as Illini complete sweep of season series

Quick Hits: Blackhawks respond the right way in win over Wild

Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox: 'He's got some stuff'

Why Sammy Sosa compared himself to Jesus Christ in candid interview