Hawk Talk: Stars-stuck

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Hawk Talk: Stars-stuck

Saturday, April 16, 2011
Posted: 8:13 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The last time and only time the nucleus of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson fell into a 2-0 series hole, Marian Hossa was helping the other side.

It was the Western Conference Final two years ago against Detroit. The Hawks came back to win Game 3 at home, then lose in five.

The last time the scoring core of Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa came under such post-season scrutiny as a group was about the same time last year. Through three games of the Nashville series, Kane had two goals and an assist, while the other three had combined for four assists. They responded by collecting 22 points together in winning the final three games to punch their ticket to Round Two versus Vancouver.

Regardless of how much gas is left in their tank after carrying the team just long enough to make it to the playoffs, theyll be looked upon now to fight back in this series against a Canucks team many compare to the 2010 Stanley Cup champions. Kanes secondary assist on Ben Smiths second goal Friday night is the only point among the quartet so far.

I cant speak for those guys (Toews, Kane and Hossa), but the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. That kind of stuff happens in playoff series. Weve been through that before, said Sharp, upon arriving with the team at OHare Saturday afternoon. I turned on the TV after Game 1 and the Vancouver media was talking about how (league scoring champ) Daniel Sedin was shut out. The more important thing to me is finding a way to get some wins.

We exited Vancouver playing two games where maybe we couldve gotten something out of it, but we were nowhere near good enough to be effective, said head coach Joel Quenneville. We expect our top players to all be better, and that probably goes across the board for our entire team. But certainly we need more from those guys, be it offensive zone time, puck possession time, quality scoring chances.

"Our power play has been an area where they can get some positive puck possession and confidence with the puck. But that group provides an area where we have to be improved, and I think that starts with the power play generating some momentum. We havent been very productive in that area, and thats where it can start," Quenneville continued.

No kidding.

The power play that finished the regular season ranked fourth in the NHL is in a 1-for-26 drought the last nine games, and is 1-for-25 against Vancouver this season. Blackhawks ambassador and former head coach Denis Savard said on our Blackhawks Pregame and Postgame Live that the Canucks third-ranked penalty-kill is among the most aggressive in the league, especially up top, cutting down passing lanes, and providing their own short-handed chances. The Hawks have had a first-hand look at that through the first two games.

Opportunity presents itself to be aggressive, explained Sharp, pointing the finger back at their own power play struggles. They certainly like to challenge defensemen up-ice and buzz in the (neutral) zone, but its nothing we cant handle.

Technically, the must-win game isnt the one until the other team is one win away from advancing. In front of what will be an amped-up United Center crowd looking for reasons to derisively chant the opposing goalies last name, center Ryan Johnson thinks the Hawks will need to make sure intelligence, execution, and energy are in synch to get back in the series.

Just because weve come home, the focus cant just be, Hey, we wanna run around, create hits and get the crowd going. Thats the way you get in trouble against a team like this that moves the puck the way they do. Were going to have to do the right things in order to establish a physical game.

Thats something Johnsons ex-team has already established through the first two games: hard, clean hits that can wear a team down over the course of a game and a series. Its something that his team needs to develop against the Sedins and other top Vancouver weapons.

The question is whether they have the right or enough players to do that, defend their own zone, stay out of the penalty box and still create the offense thats been lacking. Thats a pretty long to-do list when youre already down 2-0.

Its that investment that you make early in a series that may not pan out that game, but come Games 5 or 6, as the series goes on, you wear guys down and get guys thinking about it every time they go back and get the puck, or make a play along the wall.

Besides whos scoring and whos not, its another reason why the Presidents Trophy winners need to win just two out of five now, and the defending Cup winners need four out of five.

On the Health Front

(Tomas Kopeckys) progressing. Well see how he is in the morning. Bryan Bickells still getting assessed. Well have a better idea at the morning skate. (Dave Bolland) is 'doubtful'.

Kopecky sat out Game 2 after suffering an upper-body injury early in the series opener. Bickell appeared to have suffered a laceration to the wrist or forearm area from Sami Salos skate in Fridays third period. Bolland would be missing a 17th consecutive game due to a concussion.

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

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.