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.

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.