Hawk Talk: You Can Breathe, For a Week...

133390.jpg

Hawk Talk: You Can Breathe, For a Week...

Monday, Apr. 5, 2010
9:21 A.M.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

So you've been waiting to exhale, and finally allowed yourself to after Sunday's third straight win, where the Blackhawks again looked like...well...the Blackhawks. You probably view a first division title in 17 years a lot like the guys in the locker room did -- nice, but you'd really like to throw bigger parties later. Whatever kind of wakeup call Joel Quenneville and his coaching staff delivered, consider it received within the locker room, and the desired results have followed in the nick of time. Not that the guys didn't realize it, but putting it in play probably took a few more games than they wanted. Now let's see how long it lasts.

Let me know if you agree with the things I've liked the most:

First, they took the ice Sunday knowing the division was clinched by virtue of Detroit's loss in Philadelphia moments earlier. They could've celebrated, taken the foot off the accelerator, and not build upon what they did their previous two games, but they didn't against a Calgary team coming in on a three-game win streak, and desperate for points to make the playoffs. Sure, they own the Flames by sweeping the regular season series for the second straight year. But one stat I love looking at for a sense of how defensively invested and passionate a team is is blocked shots. They had 18 in the win over Phoenix a couple weeks ago, 19 last week in Minnesota, and 16 Sunday (six by Duncan Keith). Yes, there are some bad breaks (physically, and directionally) that can come out of all that diving and sprawling, but I'll take my chances when necessary. Of course, I'm not the one throwing my body in front of 100-mile-per-hour vulcanized rubber. By the way, how's this? Since the opening twelve minutes between the two teams this season, the Hawks outscored Calgary 20-3.

That leads us into the defensive tweaking the coaching staff has done with the blueline personnel. You probably weren't too happy with the trends over about 30 games that started with the first trip to Minnesota. For whatever reason - be it fatigue, boredom, predictability sniffed out by the opposition, the bag needed to be shaken up a bit. Keith and Seabrook together have been great, but like any pairing, inevitably hit their share of bumps. There was the huge vacancy in minutes left by the injuries to Brian Campbell and Kim Johnsson. They're still dealing with that, but the status quo wasn't providing much hope for a turnaround. So, with the addition of Dustin Byfuglien, Coach Q's shown he's as willing to try some different things on the back end, just as he will up front. That, combined with some greater defensive awareness and better coverage all over the ice, has this team going into the long-awaited final week allowing just two goals over its previous three games. You have to go to a five-game stretch in early December - when the team allowed just four goals, and went 4-&-1 - to find similar results.

Oh, and then there's the goaltending. It's your crease, Antti. You've earned it. You've won it. And the guys are playing as well as they have for some time in front of you. Whether you're the chicken or the egg doesn't matter now. Just try to keep doing what you're doing without thinking too much about the size of the stage and the brightness of the spotlight. You have exactly as much NHL playoff experience as four of your Western Conference starting goalie brethren if the season ended a week earlier (Anderson, Howard, Rinne, and Quick). Nabokov, Bryzgalov and Luongo combined have led a team to a conference final - and no further - once. Even before their shaky post-Olympic play, sorry..I've just never been a believer of the guys in San Jose and Vancouver. The former's a game above .500 in the post-season, the latter exactly .500. Bryzgalov is 9-5, with a 1.68 goals-against and a .937 save percentage between the posts in The Post. Phoenix will need more of that in what looks like a tough first-round matchup, likely against Nashville or Detroit.

The things I've liked most in this "bounce" all have to do with defense and goaltending. We must be close to playoff time. And thankfully, all the projecting, and all the guessing, will start to bring real answers on the ice.

Ryan Hartman returns for Blackhawks vs. Penguins

Ryan Hartman returns for Blackhawks vs. Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Ryan Hartman has played on the right side of that line for most of this season. Now back in the lineup, he knows he has to stay on it.

Hartman will play after missing Monday's game as a healthy scratch when the Blackhawks face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. Hartman took a few bad penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct, against the Florida Panthers last weekend, so he sat vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning. The rookie knows he has to get back to the more disciplined hockey he's played most of the season. 

"I don't change my game. I think you take the message and deliver the message," Hartman said. "Obviously, no one likes to not play, everyone wants to play games and no one likes to sit out games. It's definitely something that I took to heart. I'm just going to go out there and just try to play like I've been playing and get on the scoresheet. Just stay off it for the wrong reasons."

Coach Joel Quenneville said Hartman has to stay on the right side of the line.

[VIVID SEATS: Buy Blackhawks tickets]

"Know there are boundaries and sometimes you get watched a little bit more," Quenneville said. "The way they're calling the game, the way it's being officiated, be respectful. You still have to be hard to play against and find that limit, how far you can push it but you get a good feel on that early in games."

The Penguins are on a three-game winless streak (0-2-1) and are dealing with some injuries. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that, while Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) is close to returning, he won't play against the Blackhawks.

Broadcast information

Time: 7 p.m.
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports app
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Blackhawks lines

Nick Schmaltz-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Tanner Kero-Patrick Kane
Ryan Hartman-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
John Hayden-Dennis Rasmussen-Tomas Jurco

Defensive pairs 

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Johnny Oduya-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender

Corey Crawford

Injuries 

Artem Anisimov (left leg)

Penguins lines

Conor-Sheary-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust
Chris Kunitz-Nick Bonino-Patric Hornqvist
Scott Wilson-Carter Rowney-Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl-Oskar Sundqvist-Josh Archibald

Defensive pairs

Brian Dumoulin-Justin Schultz
Ian Cole-Chad Ruhwedel
Cameron Gaunce-Mark Streit

Goaltender

Marc-Andre Fleury

Injuries

Evgeni Malkin (shoulder), Trevor Daley (knee), Daniel Sprong (shoulder), Jake Guentzel (concussion), Olli Maatta (hand), Kris Letang (upper body), Carl Hagelin (foot), Ron Hainsey (upper body)

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

hawkspod.png
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.