Hawk Talk: Work ahead for Hawks

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Hawk Talk: Work ahead for Hawks

Monday, May 24, 20103:37 PM
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.comAs seen in two previous playoff wins over the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks, the Chicago Blackhawks have practiced long-term vision on the 2010 playoffs.

Such thinking allowed for smiles and congratulations at the end of the clubs Western Conference finals sweep over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, but the realization ran rampant that the teams true goal is still four wins away.

The dressing room postgame Sunday was all hustle and bustle, but that was mainly due to a torrent of media let into the room to record the Hometown Heroes every reaction and memory. The players themselves were decidedly muted and reflective, particularly veterans like Patrick Sharp and John Madden, who were even more soft-spoken than usual.

We understand that theres been a lot of hype over this team here in Chicago, said Madden, a veteran of two Stanley Cup wins with the New Jersey Devils. Weve still got to focus. Whatever happens in the East, we go back to work in preparation.

Patrick Kane, speaking freely with the media for an extended stretch, fielded questions that ranged everywhere from whether the tension was palpable on ice (one third-period shot I let loose on so hard I thought I might kill somebody) to whether hell play his own NHL 10 video game to prep for the Philadelphia Flyers or Montreal Canadiens (Ive been playing Mario Kart like crazy, thats all the Blackhawks play). He also pulled back the curtain on how challenging the playoff grind can be, and how much relief a few days off could provide.

Im just going to relax, he said. Im pretty tired right now. Even the celebration takes something out of you. Its all emotionally draining.

The celebration -- too much of it -- can be a concern. Kane, Brian Campbell and other Blackhawks have admitted that last years team was a little surprised to play deep into the playoffs and were happy with earlier-stage success. But nine-time Stanley Cup winner and winningest coach in NHL history, Scotty Bowman, sees two sides of celebration.

It can work both ways, said Bowman, now a senior advisor to the Blackhawks. Youve got to keep your priorities in order, but playing it too straight doesnt work, either.

Strangely enough, the solemnity that Chicago is practicing today has been a hallmark of rookie Antti Niemis approach all season long. The ascendant star goalie has been humble to the core, refusing even to engage in so much as phone calls with family or friends back at home in Finland during the WCF (finally, now we can enjoy talking a little, he said with a smile after Sundays game). His game plan for the run-up to the Finals was par for the course.

I have no idea how long well have to celebrate the win, he said. We shouldnt be celebrating too long, though. Theres still more to play.

Not to say that everythings structured and planned out in Chicago. Game 4 and WCF hero Dustin Byfuglien was asked about Stanley Cup preparation before he had much of a chance to enjoy getting there, and his speculation was as good as anyones. Im guessing the trainers are going to have something going on, dont you think?

The Blackhawks arent exactly making it up as they go along, but playing into June is uncharted territory for this generation of Redshirts. And given the solemnity theyre approaching the Finals, poor preparation and loss of focus wont be their downfall.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

Ulf Samuelsson saw the changes the Blackhawks made this season, his hiring as assistant coach being one of them. Soon he’ll be working with the team’s defensemen, another area that’s had some upheaval.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, some uncertainties and some moving parts that I probably, typically haven’t seen going into a season. So that makes it even more interesting and challenging,” Samuelsson said. “So I’m looking forward to this opportunity to really develop and work with some of the younger players.”

From its immediate coach to its personnel, the Blackhawks’ defense is dealing with plenty of change that will continue when the season begins this fall. The Blackhawks have had some addition (Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle) but dealing with the subtraction (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk) will nevertheless be tough. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that pairings are a work in progress.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we're going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” he said. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

For Murphy, who was acquired in the deal that sent Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, there are no set expectations as to where he fits yet.

“With any team you go into training camp proving where you’re going to be. Everyone has to come in and earn certain positions, especially me being a guy who they’re not as familiar with; I have to show what I can do,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to bring a more physical edge to defending at times and be able to skate well, have a good reach, make smart reads and try to help out with whatever’s needed with that.”

As for young players, the opportunity is there. Gustav Forsling admits he wasn’t happy that fellow Swede and role model Hjalmarsson was traded. But Forsling, who looked strong coming out of camp last September, knows he has to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I want to take the next step and play more,” he said. “I want to keep progressing my game and keep developing.”

The same goes for Jordan Oesterle, who the Blackhawks signed to a two-year deal on July 1.

“When I wanted to come here the opportunity was tremendous. Just the chance to come in and try to make the top six is there, it’s a battle with a number of us guys but that’s all you ask for in the situation I’m in,” he said. “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more. I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Again, the Blackhawks could re-address defense once they implement Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve after the season begins. General manager Stan Bowman said there’s “no exact plan” right now on how they use that space – “that’s probably going to be dictated by where we’re at when we get to October, how the team’s playing, what areas are strong, what areas we want to add to,” he said.

It remains to be seen on that front. Regardless, from coaching to personnel, much has changed with the Blackhawks defense. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Blackhawks Convention Opening Ceremonies

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AP

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Blackhawks Convention Opening Ceremonies

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, we're live at the 2017 Blackhawks Convention. 

Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp join David Kaplan and Pat Boyle to talk about returning to Chicago. 

Later Boyle, CSN Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers, Chris Kuc and Sam Panayotovich discuss the huge roster changes this offseason. 

Listen to the STL Pod below.