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

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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.

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Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

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The Blackhawks’ starts have been all over the map this season but their finishes have usually been strong. That was the case again on Sunday night as the Blackhawks took a lead, lost a lead and regained a lead for good in their 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

This one featured a little bit of everything. So let’s just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over Vancouver.

1. Jonathan Toews breaks through. If the Blackhawks captain’s confidence was a little shaken with his lack of scoring this season, it should’ve gotten a boost with his Sunday outing. Toews’ goal and three assists were as big for him as they were the Blackhawks, who needed every bit of it late against the Canucks. In his last 12 games Toews has three goals and eight assists. He’s getting there. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “it seems like he was around the puck way more and when he does that, usually good things happen.”

2. Great start. This hasn’t been written very often but it was more than evident on Sunday night. If this wasn’t the Blackhawks’ best opening period of the season it was pretty close, as they broke out to a 2-0 lead against the Canucks. The Blackhawks, outside of a 3 ½-minute sequence without a shot on goal, were tenacious and ready to shoot, taking an 18-9 shots-on-goal edge in that first.

3. Corey Crawford rebounds. Quenneville considered Scott Darling for this game, an understandable thought with Darling coming off a 30-stop shutout. But he wanted Crawford to get back to where he was prior to his appendectomy, and Crawford took a step in that direction on Sunday night. In stopping 26 of 28 shots Crawford got his 18th victory of the season and 200th of his career. Quenneville said Crawford “looked like he was in control.”

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4. Michal Kempny’s tough stretch. When Kempny has been good this season he’s been very good. When he’s been bad... The defenseman was in the penalty box when the Canucks scored their first goal and he was beaten by Bo Horvat on the Canucks’ second goal. Kempny didn’t play the final 14 minutes of the game. Quenneville, who liked what Kempny brought on the team’s road trip, said Kempny just has to work through some things. “Coverage with awareness and knowing sometimes it’s man coverage, sometimes it’s playing the puck and clearing the loose stuff,” Quenneville said. “Defenseman is a tough position as you’re growing and learning it, but the more you play the better you play and I still think he’s making progress.”

5. Brian Campbell gets to keep No. 500 this time. Campbell thought he had his 500th point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night but it was taken away. Well he got it back on Sunday night, setting up Richard Panik’s 11th goal of the season in the first period.