Hawks united, centered with mind games on

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Hawks united, centered with mind games on

Friday, April 22, 2011Posted: 8:10 p.m.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com
If the Canucks were going to go back to Vancouver after Game Four, the Blackhawks thought they might as well go with them. If the Hawks were coming back home after Game Five, why not make the Presidents Trophy champs add to their miles, too?

Thats a lot cuter and easier-sounding than the reality, but the mind games have certainly begun.

WATCH: Luongo shaves playoff beard

Before we start crowning the defending champs as the next Miracle on Ice, lets keep in mind 44 other teams in NHL history have turned 3-0 deficits to 3-2, and only three have overcome. And besides the 10-1-2 stretch that bridged February into March, the Hawks havent been very consistent this season. They have to be now.

On paper, most NHL executives might take Vancouvers roster over these Hawks. The question now becomes if Jonathan Toews and company can keep a firm hold on momentum while continue raising the doubts of the team theyve KOd from the past two post-seasons.

You compare the last two games to the first three its definitely more fun now, said the captain Friday afternoon upon returning from Vancouver. Weve been in a battle a long time. Things have tilted our way and were playing our best hockey of the year when it counts. Every single guys buying into that. Were saying we have the potential to do something special if we keep going that way, and were not holding anything back.

While Toews has yet to score a goal (three assists) in this series, he continues doing everything else in his job description, and doing it quite well. Hes not letting the personal offensive snakebite get in the way of other things, but as Tracey Myers accurately indicated in her in-game Tweets during Game Five, the chances hes been getting the last couple of games would seem to bode well to join Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith with multiple mentions on the scoresheet.

Hossa started having a greater presence in the Game Four rout, before scoring twice and setting up another in Game Five. Hed already been reminded about scoring a total of three goals in his 26-game Blackhawks career before Thursday night.

Then theres Keith, who has four goals and two assists the last three games. The Norris Trophy winner has alluded to not quite being himself this season, but he provided some clarity upon getting off the team plane at OHare.

This year for mes been frustrating. Ive felt Ive had really good stretches and times where I dont want to say lose my focus, or not interested, but just good stretches and bad stretches. More inconsistency than I wouldve liked. Im trying to have a good playoff here and do what I can to help the team keep going.

Keiths known for his devotion to conditioning, and is a creature of habit during the season, and in the off-season. Last summer was hardly your typical off-season, even if he had the best possible reason for it not being typical.

I like to work out and train a lot, and Im not making excuses but I didnt feel excited coming back to start a season. Once you get a bad start that you dont like or arent happy with, it kind of snowballs in some ways. You think youre getting out of it, and it comes back and becomes a mental thing. It makes you appreciate having a good start.

Hes playing his best hockey, Toews says. Its been awhile since weve seen him play that well. He was just all over the place. There isnt anything he wasnt doing (Thursday night). He was getting into the mix after the whistle. He wasnt afraid to get in there. Hes been deadly with his shot from the point. Whether its the power play or the penalty kill, hes our top guy right now.

Part of the bad start to this series was Raffi Torress Game Three hit on Brent Seabrook, which has sidelined Keiths best friend, frequent defensive partner, and fellow Olympian.

Keith and the Hawks arent admitting to the non-suspension of Torres being a rallying point, just topping off the embarrassment of being on the brink of elimination so quickly. The team hopes to have a better idea of Seabrooks possible return when he takes to the ice Saturday morning, probably before the regular practice.

Were still realistic and know were in a tough spot and facing elimination, said Keith. A lot of our motivation comes from that.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Schmaltz-Toews-Panik.

There might not be a hotter line in hockey right now than the Blackhawks' trio of Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. They combined for five goals and five assists — highlighted by a hat trick and five-point effort from Toews — in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Minnesota, and were hot before that. Toews has 21 points in his last 12 games. Schmaltz has seven points in his last six, while Panik has nine points in his past six. Is Joel Quenneville simply riding the hot hand or could this be a line that sticks together for a while even when they inevitably cool off?

2. Can power play get going again?

The Blackhawks are 0-for-8 on the power play in their last three games after converting on six of their previous 14 attempts. They went 2-for-4 during their last meeting, which resulted in a 4-3 victory. Arizona has allowed at least a power play goal in six of their last 10 games, including three of their last four, and owns a bottom-five penalty kill unit at 77.1 percent. If that area gets going for the Blackhawks, look out. 

3. Marian Hossa's recent success vs. Arizona.

Hossa has six goals and three assists in his last six games against the Coyotes dating back to 2014-15, recording at least a point in each of those games, and helping lead the Blackhawks to a 5-0-1 record. He's scored a goal in each of those last three, and will look to continue his success against an Arizona team whose 49 points ranked second-to-last in the NHL.

4. Martin Hanzal heating up as trade deadline nears.

The 30-year-old center has five goals in his last six contests, and will be a hot commodity over the next week as the March 1 trade deadline approaches. He could be an option for the Blackhawks if they want to bolster their center depth, but it's looking more and more unlikely as the asking price will be high and there will be many bidders. Expect a tweak more than a large addition.

5. Artemi Panarin quietly heating up.

Due to the emergence of Schmaltz-Toews-Panik that has been earning all the attention, Panarin is flying under the radar as of late. He has nine points in his last eight games that's gotten lost in the shuffle, and is tied for 16th in the league in scoring. He's only three points away from re-entering the top-10. And there's a chance he could have a big night. In five career games against Arizona, the 25-year-old Russian winger has two goals and six assists. That's an average of 1.60 points per game.

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Jonathan Toews' the Blackhawks' MVP?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Jonathan Toews' the Blackhawks' MVP?

Chris Emma (670TheScore.com), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and national college football analyst Anthony Herron join Kap on the panel.  The guys discuss if Jonathan Toews is the Blackhawks’ MVP so far this season, whether a Jimmy Butler trade to the Celtics makes sense and why Rob Manfred is focused on shaving seconds off of the length of games.

Plus with Jay Cutler heading out the door, who will replace him?  And should Northwestern be on the NCAA Tournament bubble after losing again to the Illini?