LIVE: Blackhawks trail Canucks 2-0 in 3rd period

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LIVE: Blackhawks trail Canucks 2-0 in 3rd period

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.

Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks have plenty of recent rich history in their rivalry.

The past three seasons alone have included everything from hair pulling to body slams, name calling to calling out. Most important to any good NHL rivalry, the past two years it ended with Chicago knocking the Canucks out of the playoffs.

With a history like that, you'd think it would be easy to get players talking about each other before their first-round series kicks off Wednesday in Vancouver. Think again.

"You don't really need any more story lines," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who earlier this season accused Chicago counterpart Joel Quenneville of running up the score in a 7-1 November romp.

"Do you want me to do like that Jets coach here: 'it's between me and Quenneville?' No, there's a tremendous amount of story lines because of the history between both of these teams."

For all the bitter history, the focus going into the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series was how much these two teams have changed since last season.

Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup after eliminating Vancouver in six games in the second round for a second straight season.

But the Blackhawks were forced to shed 11 players to stay under the salary cap, including several key Canucks' antagonists, and needed help from Minnesota beating Dallas in the final game of the season Sunday just to make it back into the playoffs.

Meanwhile the Canucks, in part because of improvements made after losing again to Chicago, set franchise records for points (117) and wins (54) and became the first team since the 1977-78 Canadiens to lead the league in goals for and against while winning the Presidents' Trophy.

Listening to them talk about each other, you'd think each team was running the other's fan club.

The only disagreement was which team was the favorite.

"We're certainly underdogs in this series," Quenneville said.

Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo didn't sound quite as certain.

"Far as I know they're still Stanley Cup champs," he said.

Maybe so, but these are not the same Blackhawks that hoisted the Cup. Gone are goalie Antti Niemi and forward Andrew Ladd, who was once called a "coward" by Canucks center Ryan Kesler.

Big-bodied forward Dustin Byfuglien, who made life miserable in Luongo's crease, was traded, as was Kris Versteeg, who scored two game-winning goals in the last playoff series.

"They still have (Jonathan) Toews, (Patrick) Kane, (Duncan) Keith, and (Brent) Seabrook," Luongo said. "That's a dangerous team. They know how to win."

Especially in Vancouver, where the Canucks also host Game 2 on Friday before the series shifts to Chicago for Games 3 and 4. The Blackhawks won all three games in Vancouver last postseason, including a conclusive 5-1 victory in Game 6, and have a 5-1 record here the past two playoffs.

"Any mental edge would be thrown out the window the way the years have gone," Kane said. "But you always hope you have a mental edge and hope you are in the back of their minds that what happened wasn't a fluke and could happen again."

The Canucks say they learned from the losses, especially handing Chicago a run of power plays with undisciplined penalties in Games 3 and 4. They made changes to personnel, strengthening their defensive depth and adding grit up front. But the biggest adjustment was to their personality.

Just as they refused to repeat last season's talk about wanting to play Chicago and being eager for redemption, the players, led by former agitators Kesler and Alex Burrows, made a conscious effort to reduce trash talk to opponents and officials, something they learned from the Blackhawks.

"If you learn from the past there's a good chance the future will be different," Vigneault said. "We've proven a lot of things during the regular season and now it's our turn to try and prove it in the playoffs."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”