Hawk Talk: Tension rising in playoff hunt

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Hawk Talk: Tension rising in playoff hunt

Thursday, March 31, 2011Posted: 5:25 p.m.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Last years Blackhawks were the NHLs best. And they had guys who could irritate with the best of them, either through words, or actions.

Burish. Versteeg. Byfuglien. Eager. Dave Bollands still around, but he wasnt there in the first period on Tuesday night in Boston.

But its that-first period incident against the Bruins that has brought into question whether the Blackhawks are Yap-hawks. Champion Chirpers. Thats Shawn Thorntons claim after he tried to wheel away from an official guiding him and his bloody face towards the Boston bench and get to someone on the Hawks bench, who verbally pushed his button. Thorntons charge comes four weeks after Calgarys Brendan Morrison said the same about players on the Hawks bench as he struggled to get off the ice with a knee injury, from which he has yet to return.

Everybody talks, everybody tries to get under each others skin, said Fernando Pisani, whose skate inadvertently caused the gash as both he and Thornton fell behind the Hawks net. Its that time of the year. Emotions are high, everybody knows whats at stake and guys are just trying to bring an edge to the game. Every team theres always a few guys that do it. Thats part of the game, to try to agitate and get under the skin. To say we have more than any other team? Every team does it.

I think every team does, agreed Bryan Bickell, who works out with Thornton in the off-season and wishes him well. Everyone has their grudges against other teams and different players. They like to joke around with each other. Its all in good fun, but there are times it gets heated. I dont think our teams any different than any other team.

Joel Quenneville seemed pretty surprised by the charge, based on what he sees and hears.

I would say were pretty quiet on the bench," Quenneville said. "I probably yell a lot and Im not yelling at the other players. Thats the voice I hear a lot, getting line combinations going. I dont hear too much other stuff.

Where Quenneville wants to hear a little more noise is from his team scoring goals. In the six games dating to the 5-0 loss in Dallas, his teams managed 10 goals (four versus Florida). His desire for a defensive mindset has paid off, allowing just eight goals since. Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook have combined for 21 points, the rest of the roster just nine. So the best players are carrying this team in its victories, but probably need a little help lifting. With Patrick Sharp now remaining off the ice until at least Monday, Bickell became the latest Left Wing Experiment at Thursdays practice, following the brief stints of Viktor Stalberg and Troy Brouwer.

Whether its production, consistencyI dont mind trying things until you think its exactly what youre looking for, explained Quenneville. Hes played there in the past, some big games, important games last year, and gives us some size as well.

You cant sit there and rely on one, two or three guys to provide offense for the whole team. Everyone has to contribute, everybody has to bring something to the table, whether its scoring goals, finishing checks, playing good defense, said Pisani, who is scoreless in a dozen games wrapped around an injury sustained seven weeks ago.

Quenneville knows with two of the top six forwards down at this time of the year, you may not necessarily get all your wishes answered, so hes had to pick a priority for the time being.

We havent scored many goals (the last five games) but weve only given up eight. I like the way were playing defensively. 'Crows' solid in net. Were going to be playing close games, and whether its a timely goal, whether its the power playthere is some production throughout our lineup that were gonna be looking for. Its a tight game and were not gonna have stretches where were scoring five or six every night. Those are good nights, but its tough to get those right about now.

While Columbus played in Washington Thursday night, the Blue Jackets are one of the two division rivals the Hawks face in the last six who wont make the post-season and who will undoubtedly look to make Chicago's road even tougher.

Ya see last night with Detroit and St. Louis (a 10-3 Blues win in Detroit)were fighting for a playoff spot right now and Im sure the Blue Jackets want to pop our bubble, said Bickell. We cant take them lightly. We know theyre out. We just need to stay focused

Corey Crawford will make his 22nd straight start in goal Friday, but is 0-2 with a 3.50 goals-against average this season versus the Jackets, while Marty Turco is 3-0.

I dont think theyre gonna give us anything," Crawford said. "We definitely know he have to go in there with our best game. Its running short here, so we dont have much time.

Last year, they beat us a couple of times this late in the season, Quenneville remembered. They play Thursday night in Washington, so we want to make sure we have a hard pace against them right off the bat. They can score goals and Im sure theyll be excited about playing us. Weve got to be ready and take care of business.

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

Marcus Kruger activated off IR ahead of Blackhawks-Lightning

Marcus Kruger activated off IR ahead of Blackhawks-Lightning

Dennis Rasmussen or Marcus Kruger could play Tuesday night and Corey Crawford will start when the Blackhawks host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

Rasmussen did not skate Tuesday morning due to illness but coach Joel Quenneville said the center could still play vs. the Lightning. Quenneville said Kruger is "close" to playing — he was activated off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon — and his status could depend on how Rasmussen feels.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks, sitting in second place in the Western Conference, are on a three-game winning streak entering Tuesday's game. The Lightning, the Blackhawks' 2015 Stanley Cup opponent, has struggled with injuries (Steven Stamkos has been out since November) and is last in the Eastern Conference. Despite the Lightning's struggles, Quenneville isn't taking the team lightly.

"Obviously they've had some health issues, significant guys missing big stretches of their year, but they still have guys out there that are skilled and it's an extremely dangerous team and a very competitive East side," Quenneville said. "I'm sure they'll be ready for tonight."

Andrei Vasilevskiy will start Tuesday night for the Lightning. Coach Jon Cooper said J.T. Brown and Jason Garrison are game-time decisions.

BLACKHAWKS VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

7:30 p.m.
TV: CSN
Live stream: CSNChicago.com or NBC Sports app
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks

Forward lines

Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Vinnie Hinostroza-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Andrew Desjardins-Dennis Rasmussen-Nick Schmaltz

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender

Corey Crawford

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Marcus Kruger (right arm), Dennis Rasmussen (ill).

Tampa Bay Lightning (projected; some are game-time decisions)

Forward lines

Ondrej Palat-Vladislav Namestnikov-Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn-Tyler Johnson-J.T. Brown
Bryan Boyle-Valtteri Filppula-Jonathan Drouin
Michael Bournival-Cedric Paquette-Gabriel Dumont

Defensive Pairs

Victor Hedman-Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison-Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn-Nikita Nesterov

Goaltender

Andrei Vasilvskiy

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Steven Stamkos (knee), Brayden Point (upper body), Ryan Callahan (lower body), Jason Garrison (illness).

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

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