Hawk Talk: Top two seeds shall meet in the West

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Hawk Talk: Top two seeds shall meet in the West

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
11:57 PMBy Chris Boden
CSNChicago.comSAN JOSE --- Now that I'm "stuck" here in NoCal for a few days as we await the start of What's Next, there's finally a chance to pitch in again here on the ol' InterWeb. Not that you've been holding your breath in overwhelming anticipation, but most of the past month's been about racing to and from Centers, Arenas, Places, airports, hotels, restaurants, CSN, or - in the rarest of cases - home. And whenever I show up there, it seems every time, the grass needs to be cut. Again.The Blackhawks are halfway home to their One Goal - same thing that we said this time a year ago after dispatching of the Canucks. This long season that began in Antti Niemi's homeland now has just 14 games left, tops.This team has made its mistakes, and has its games here and there where you wonder if they were just bored, or taking things for granted. That usually seems to come when they happen to have some wiggle room. We've all done it. It's part of growing up, and we've all done it in our lives at work, in relationships, or any day-to-day routine. Unfortunately, the money athletes make doesn't keep them from human nature within their games. I've been covering the Hawks in varying degrees for almost 30 years, and can't remember one team that hasn't admitted after head-scratching performances that effort, focus, and the mental edge were lacking. So things like games one and five against Vancouver, and games one and three against Nashville happen. They've prevented it from steamrolling into something bigger, which teams like now-ex-champion Pittsburgh and Washington (versus Montreal) and Boston (against Philadelphia) haven't been able to do.The Hawks' talent, depth, and confidence (and yes, maybe even cockiness) has helped keep them on an even keel through all the dips in this roller coaster ride, and they've always managed to respond. I can't say for certain there have been no screaming or yelling incidents in their room at any point this season after losses. I can say for sure there have been few, if any. It's kind of a reflection of their young captain's personality. To this point, these players and this coaching staff know through their skill and versatility that any adjustments they need to make can work if they buy in to it. That often happens the very next game. "Exhibit A" was Tuesday in Vancouver , which just might've been their best game of these playoffs, and took advantage of a Canucks team beginning to feel a physical toll.All season long, the team I thought would provide the Hawks the most difficulty in a playoff series would be a healthy Detroit team, as they proved in the final two regular season meetings at the United Center. I'm still glad going in for the Hawks' sake it's the Sharks, and not a second straight Western Final versus the Wings (who spoiled the opportunity for the Hawks to have home ice advantage in this series). But how San Jose knocked them out certainly opens your eyes - winning the first three, getting blown out in Game 4, and, just when many of us looked for another post-season meltdown, delivering a gritty knockout punch last Saturday night.The players whose puzzling post-seasons past cast doubt on their ability to win finally came through in the clutch. Thornton, Marleau, Nabokov. The secondary scoring Doug Wilson's team so desperately needed heading into this year actually became their primary scoring to get them past Colorado. And just when everyone thought "Here We Go Again" when they put the puck in their own net in overtime of Game 3 against the Avalanche, they formed a backbone and mental toughness, resulting in seven wins in their last eight. So far at home, they've been the exception to the rule this post-season, winning five straight since dropping the opener.While Jonathan Toews has starred since Game 3 against the Preds, it was the Hawks' depth Tuesday that finally broke Vancouver: Bolland, Brouwer, Versteeg, Byfuglien.Depth is vital the deeper you go. Sounds like a Yogi-ism. But it's good for a thicker, longer beard.

And a final P.S.I wrote how banged-up the Canucks were. So let's not forget the Blackhawks' unsung and often overlooked medical and training staff of Mike Gapski, Paul Goodman, Jeff Thomas, Pawel Prylinski, and their team of M.D. specialists. Except for the preseason surgeries for Hossa and Burish, and your occasional concussion, their players have remained unbelievably, physically resilient, eight steps from a Cup. A little luck's involved, of course. But the bulk of the roster has been able to go out and play every night during the grind. Much of the credit goes to guys behind the scenes who keep them going.

Blackhawks gear up for Wild in 'extremely important' game

Blackhawks gear up for Wild in 'extremely important' game

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Blackhawks knew their meeting against the Minnesota Wild two weeks ago was a critical contest. This one is right up there, too.

The Blackhawks are trying to keep pace with the front-running Wild, who are seven points ahead of them entering tonight's game.

"There's certainly always something to play for," said coach Joel Quenneville, whose Blackhawks are 10 points ahead of third-place St. Louis. "We want to keep getting better and we're starting to improve over this part of the season. But the point of importance of today's game and keeping it close is important for us, so we'll approach it that way. We were going into the break a week ago, and I'm sure it's an important game for them but it's an extremely important game for us."

Meanwhile the Wild will be trying to do tonight what the Blackhawks did on Feb. 11: go into their bye on a high note. The Wild haven't had many hiccups lately, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Devan Dubnyk will get the start as the Wild look to keep extending their lead.

"It's one of those games that's a great challenge for your group," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You're playing a team that's still won three Stanley Cups in the last seven years and they've been in every battle you can imagine. That team gets up for every important game, and I think they'll think this is an important game. It's just about being an athlete. It's one of those things, you love to play in these situations."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Tuesday marks the Wild's 59th game of the season; they had caught up to Chicago during the Blackhawks' bye week, yet will go into their break with a game in hand. Still, the Wild are ready for the respite.

"We're not complaining about it," Charlie Coyle said. "It's a little different, yeah, but in the long run it's going to help us. Just get this rest period, rest the legs, the body, [rest] mentally, come back and get ready for the grind. It's going to be crucial for us and we'll try to take advantage of it."

Matt Dumba (knee) could return to the Wild's lineup tonight but Boudreau wouldn't say for sure.

Broadcast information

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

Blackhawks

Forward lines
Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

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

Goaltender
Corey Crawford

Injuries/illnesses: None

Minnesota Wild

Forward lines
Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville
Chris Stewart-Tyler Graovac-Jordan Schroeder

Defensive Pairs
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Gustav Olofsson-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba

Goaltender
Devan Dubnyk

Injuries/illnesses: None

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 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. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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