Hawks inch one step closer to a playoff berth

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Hawks inch one step closer to a playoff berth

Friday, April 8, 2011
Posted: 9:06 p.m. Updated: 11:55 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

DETROIT The Blackhawks dressing room was quiet before Friday nights game against the Red Wings. Defenseman Brian Campbell said that could have had two very different meanings.

Either A: Youre not ready or, B: We knew what was at stake and we knew what we needed to do, he said. Im glad it was option No. 2.

Campbell scored the game-winner and the Blackhawks stormed out to a 3-0 first-period lead en route to a 4-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. The Blackhawks finished the night in eighth place; the Anaheim Ducks, a 2-1 winner over the Los Angeles Kings, remained in seventh.

The Blackhawks also kept their two-point lead over the Dallas Stars, who beat the Avalanche in Colorado, 3-2.

Ben Smith scored his first NHL goal as part of that productive first period that began with Brent Seabrooks goal 27 seconds into the game.

Watch: Quenneville on the team's sense of urgency

It was a huge start and scoring first shift certainly helped, coach Joel Quenneville said. The guys had good energy in the morning skate. It was an important game and you could sense it was a different approach. You could see the urgency was in the guys faces. The first shift exemplified that and we took off from there.

It was the start the Blackhawks needed and they kept up that style of play throughout. They won puck battles and constantly pressured the Wings. They were also aggressive in stymieing Detroits scoring chances, blocking 21 shots.

We were prepared and ready to go, said Corey Crawford, who stopped 26 of 28 for his 33rd victory this season. That was one of our best starts in a while. We came out with a little offense and had them on their heels a little bit. That was great for us to get that.

The Wings, meanwhile, were uncharacteristically off. Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said the Wings have had the same issue a few times this season.

Too inconsistent, I think thats our biggest problem, he said. Weve showed up and played well in certain games and in other games we havent played as well or with that desperation you have to play with as you get close to the playoffs. Thats the bottom line, that we as a team have to play better whether were facing a team thats desperate or a team thats not in the playoffs.

Marian Hossa added a power-play breakaway in the second period for the Blackhawks, who are now 4-1-0 against the Wings this season.

Watch: Toews says the team is showing how much they want it

Whether you get that lead or not you have to keep going, said Jonathan Toews. Sometimes its dangerous to have a lead like that early in a game. Its easy to think theyre going to throw in the towel but theyre not that type of team. We did a good job of just staying with it and just finished off a solid 60 minutes.

The Blackhawks will need another 60-minute effort on Sunday. The Stars are still on their tail, the Blackhawks are still jockeying for position, as are the Wings.
Watch: Sharp says it's a desperate situation

In other words, they better stick to Plan B.

We need to get on a roll and play a good game Sunday, Campbell said. Dallas is going to take care of business anyway. Thats my feeling on it. So well be ready to go.

Breaking Through

The Chicago Blackhawks rookie, playing in his second consecutive game, had the puck on his stick and only Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard to beat. But calmly and quickly Smith won that one on one.

Smith scored his first NHL goal and was part of a strong line with Kane and Michael Frolik in the Blackhawks 4-2 victory over Detroit on Friday. For Smith, its just about seizing an opportunity, be it in this call-up or on a scoring chance.

Kane made a great play poking that puck to me. Any time you get the puck and get some time in the slot, you just try to get it off fast. I was able to do that, Smith said. The first couple of shifts there we were buzzing a bit, we had a little chemistry there. Hopefully it builds.

Kane had two assists and Frolik had another as part of that line. Coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw with that trio.

That line has been pretty special the couple games theyve been together as far as seeing plays, play recognition and defensively, he said. Kaner made a great poke on (that goal), Smith made a nice finish. They were dangerous all night. Theyre three guys who have good sense offensively and defensively, and in the short amount of time theres already a little chemistry there.
Bolland, Brouwer updates

Dave Bolland, who has been sidelined with a concussion for nearly a month, skated in Chicago on Friday morning. It was a good sign for Bolland, who suffered his concussion when Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina elbowed him in the head on March 9.

Hes doing better, really progressing there. The fact hes on the ice means hes turning the corner, said Quenneville, who was hopeful Bolland could be ready for the postseason. Certainly the fact hes on the ice gives you signs it could happen. Where there wasnt a lot of hope a while ago thats changed. Anything can happen, but we like the fact that hes improving.

Troy Brouwer, whos day to day with a right-shoulder injury suffered against Montreal on Tuesday, may also be close.

I like his progress, Quenneville said. Right now hes just day to day, but hopefully well see him on the ice soon.

Kruger scratched
Marcus Kruger was scratched for the second consecutive game on Friday night. Kruger came here from Sweden and made his Blackhawks debut against the Florida Panthers on March 23.

I really liked the way he played the first couple of games, Quenneville said. Whether its pace, strength, understanding how we have to play or different ice surfaces, hell grasp that as we go along here. Hes still going to be useful and I still like what he does.
Briefly

Tomas Kopecky left after taking a Viktor Stalberg shot to his left ear with 8:26 remaining in regulation. Quenneville said afterward he was fine.

Crawford got a secondary assist on Hossas goal, his first career NHL point.

Watch: Crawford jokes about his assist

Ryan Johnson played in his 700th career NHL game on Friday.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

Before the clock struck noon on a day Chicago was hosting its first ever NHL Draft, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman sent shockwaves throughout the city and hockey world by completing a pair of blockbuster trades within an hour of each other.

The first was dealing three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona, and the second involving Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad in a swap of talented wingers with Columbus.

This comes two days after the Blackhawks announced Marian Hossa will miss the 2017-18 campaign with a progressive skin disorder. That's three core players gone in the blink of an eye.

Who's ready for a new era in Chicago?

Rather than maximizing a championship window that was viewed as closing quickly, Bowman has elected to take a long-term approach and it might not be the worst idea.

There's no doubt the loss of Hjalmarsson, who remains one of the most underrated blue liners in the league, and Panarin, who finished in the top-10 in scoring among forwards in both of his first two NHL seasons, will sting.

But there's a good chance the Blackhawks wouldn't have been able to reward them with the pay raises they deserve after their contracts expire following the 2018-19 season, and that certainly played a huge role in the decision to head in a new direction.

In reacquiring Saad, the Blackhawks finally give Jonathan Toews that reliable left-winger they've desperately lacked since Saad was shipped out of town in 2015, providing balance throughout the top-six. Saad is also locked up for the next four years at a $6 million cap hit that will look better as time goes by.

For the last two years, the Blackhawks were known as a one-line scoring team thanks to the chemistry developed between Patrick Kane and Panarin.

The second-half emergence of Nick Schmaltz and familiarity Kane has developed with center Artem Anisimov has allowed Panarin to become expendable in their quest to solve their top-line woes. And that's not a bad consolation line, especially when you consider top prospect Alex DeBrincat could also be in the cards as early as this season.

On the back end, the Blackhawks receive a 24-year-old defenseman in Connor Murphy, who's also signed for the next four years at a $3.85 million cap hit, and carries a right-handed shot, something they've needed more of in the organization. While there will certainly be growing pains under Joel Quenneville, Murphy's ceiling is fairly high and gives the Blackhawks some speed coming out of their own zone.

In making both of these deals, the Blackhawks got younger in their attempt to keep up with a league that relies more on speed, addressing a few areas that Nashville exposed during their first-round sweep of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

And while they may have sacrificed two key players in the short-term, the Blackhawks executed a plan that should keep the perceived championship window open longer than expected.

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial.