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.

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Life as a backup goaltender can be difficult. 

The job entails being prepared at all times and performing at a high level when your number is called despite going sometimes weeks without seeing any action.

With Corey Crawford backing up Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, Scott Darling is getting the No. 1 reps in the crease for the Blackhawks.

And he's taking full advantage of that.

"Yeah, obviously I miss Corey, but it's fun to be the guy right now," Darling said following a 2-0 loss in Wednesday's preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I'll take any starts I can get. I don't care if it's regular season or preseason, I just want to play as much as I can. It was nice to get the first game under my belt."

After facing just three shots in the first period, Darling stayed on his toes by denying all 23 shots he saw in the second period — a handful of them on the penalty kill.

"I definitely don't like sitting there," Darling said of the first period. "I don't think they had a shot for about 12 minutes, but you've got to learn how to play in those situations too. It's nice to get some game feels."

Darling finished with 33 saves overall in the Blackhawks' loss and was sharp in the first dress rehearsal of the year as both goals were out of his control — a redirect on the power play and a rebound tap-in at the doorstep, both by Chris Kunitz.

Credit his strong play to working hard in the offseason and maximizing on the opportunity he's been given.

"Darling certainly was a standout, not only when we got a little bit overwhelmed in the second period, but really throughout the game," Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen said. "He was certainly a positive, which we always expect out of him but I think it's a testament to the way he prepared himself this summer and I think it certainly showed tonight." 

Darling doesn't get many chances to anchor the blue paint on a nightly basis.

He started in 24 games last season, 11 of which came during the final portion of the season in March and April when Crawford was dealing with an upper-body injury.

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Darling said that stretch was "probably the best I've ever felt" because you know you're the guy, which eliminates the stress factor of turning in a great performance to earn your next start.

He finished the 2015-16 campaign with a 12-8-4 record, 2.58 goals against average and .915 save percentage, including one shutout.

Not bad, not great. 

This season is a chance to prove he can continue to be a consistent and reliable goaltender in any situation, and when the 27-year-old Lemont native gets the opportunity to represent the team he grew up rooting for — something he never loses sight of — Darling expects to be on top of his game when called upon.

"I'm seriously excited to be on the Chicago Blackhawks still," he said. "I just want to play the best I can when they give me a chance to play."

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz figured it would be different at this level.

Yes, Schmaltz had played against some of college’s best en route to that national title with the University of North Dakota. But the pro level is the pro level for a reason.

“It’s a big transition from the college level. Guys are faster, more skilled, and you have less time and space,” he said. “But as camp’s gone on everyone’s gotten a little more comfortable and making more plays and I think we’ll continue that into tonight.”

Schmaltz looked pretty comfortable on Wednesday night, when the Blackhawks lost their preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-0. Schmaltz logged 18 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time, including 2:53 on the power play. For the Madison, Wisc., kid who used to come to Blackhawks playoff games, playing that first game at the United Center was “surreal.”

“It was good,” he said after the game. “Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we had some good opportunities. We can get more pucks on net. We let the goalie off a little easy, but hopefully just keep building and keep getting better every day.”

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Schmaltz has practiced some on the left wing, and that’s where he was in Wednesday night’s scrimmage (with Vinnie Hinostroza centering and Richard Panik on right wing). The Blackhawks always love versatility, but Schmaltz going on the wing is more of a need than an option right now.

“Most of the openings in the organization are on the wing. We’re pretty full down the middle. It’s something we’re trying to see if he can fit in there and play well there,” assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “And he’s got a nice set of hands, a nice skill set, so hopefully he’ll be comfortable on the wing there.”

Schmaltz has played more right wing than left, but he said the adjustments aren’t so bad.

“Just wall work. Might have to make some backhand plays off the wall but other than that, nothing, really,” Schmaltz said. “Since me and Panik are playing off wing, we’ll get across the blue line, cut across and make plays to each other. It’ll be fun out there.”

Schmaltz held his own in his first game in a Blackhawks uniform. There are high expectations for him entering this season, but he’ll let his game dictate where he ends up.

“If I play my game, play hard, I should put myself in a pretty good spot,” he said. “But I can’t control what decisions they make, so I’ll compete as hard as I can every night and show them what I can do.”