One last 'biggest game of the year' for Hawks

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One last 'biggest game of the year' for Hawks

Saturday, April 9, 2011
Posted: 12:41 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

One game remains, from which one point is needed. For the Chicago Blackhawks, it comes down to that. Get a point out of their final regular-season game against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday and theyre in the postseason.

A loss and a Dallas Stars win, and its bye-bye Stanley Cup defense. Simple. And its also, obviously, the most critical situation the Blackhawks have faced all season.

Everythings at stake for tomorrows game, Joel Quenneville said after Saturdays practice. I dont know how many times weve said that statement all year, but tomorrow it really is.

If the Blackhawks want to get that one point or two, which would actually be more to their liking theyre going to have to bring the same dominant game they had in their 4-2 victory in Detroit on Friday night. The Blackhawks were stellar; as Brian Campbell said, they recognized the situation at hand.

Rinse and repeat.

Its the biggest game. (Friday) was the biggest before that, and the one before that. Its been that way for a while, Campbell said. Were still in the same situation. Its probably going to be a playoff atmosphere so well be ready to go.

Theyll have to be. The Red Wings, frustrated with their performance in Detroit on Friday, will want to play spoiler to their Central Division rival. It will likely be a tight game, and as long as the Blackhawks get one point out of it, theyll be a happy group.

We need one point and were looking for two. Detroits going to want to come in and burst our bubble, Bryan Bickell said. We could come in (fifth) if other things happen. We want to get a win and not have to worry about Dallas.

Ah yes, Dallas. The Stars are two points behind Chicago and play in Minnesota later on Sunday. The Blackhawks dont want to leave the United Center on Sunday afternoon and have to hope, wish and pray that the Wild help them out.

So its up to them. Its game 82 and the Blackhawks hold their own postseason fate in their hands. Its the playoffs before the playoffs, and if the Blackhawks arent ready, theyll be no one last chance.

Our goal and focus all year was to get in. Weve been targeting it all year and its been a major battle for us, Quenneville said. But weve still put ourselves in a position where we have control, so lets get excited.

Bolland returns

Center Dave Bolland, who has been out with a concussion since March 9, practiced with his teammates on Saturday. Bolland, practicing one month to the date after he was sidelined by Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina, had non-contact status.

Despite practicing, Bolland was not made available to talk on Saturday. His teammates were encouraged by Bollands return.

He looks a lot better than the last time I saw him, for sure, said Bickell, whos been Bollands linemate often this season. Seeing him skating today, it was pretty huge. He looked pretty good for all the time he had off. Hopefully hell have a fast recovery.

Quenneville said Bolland looked all right.

Hes still not cleared for contact but he made real good progress over the last three or four days so well continue to see how hes progressing.

Bolland had made little progress for what seemed like weeks before improving this past week. Campbell said he didnt bother Bolland too much during his recovery.

Im not the type of guy who wants to ask too many questions on how hes feeling because Im sure he gets that 500 times a day, said Campbell, who added that his only concussion was when he was in juniors.

Campbell came back quickly from his concussion, which was dealt with in an interesting way.

My junior coach told me to have a beer and fall asleep and Id be all right. Hes old school, as you can tell, Campbell said. I played a few days later, but concussions werent the talk of everything back then.

Briefly
Patrick Sharp and Tomas Kopecky did not practice on Saturday but Quenneville said both were fine and just resting.

Troy Brouwer (right shoulder) did not practice Saturday. Quenneville said Brouwers condition is status quo. His progress is still day to day and well get a better idea when we see him on the ice. But hes not close to that right now.

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

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

Ulf Samuelsson saw the changes the Blackhawks made this season, his hiring as assistant coach being one of them. Soon he’ll be working with the team’s defensemen, another area that’s had some upheaval.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, some uncertainties and some moving parts that I probably, typically haven’t seen going into a season. So that makes it even more interesting and challenging,” Samuelsson said. “So I’m looking forward to this opportunity to really develop and work with some of the younger players.”

From its immediate coach to its personnel, the Blackhawks’ defense is dealing with plenty of change that will continue when the season begins this fall. The Blackhawks have had some addition (Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle) but dealing with the subtraction (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk) will nevertheless be tough. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that pairings are a work in progress.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we're going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” he said. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

For Murphy, who was acquired in the deal that sent Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, there are no set expectations as to where he fits yet.

“With any team you go into training camp proving where you’re going to be. Everyone has to come in and earn certain positions, especially me being a guy who they’re not as familiar with; I have to show what I can do,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to bring a more physical edge to defending at times and be able to skate well, have a good reach, make smart reads and try to help out with whatever’s needed with that.”

As for young players, the opportunity is there. Gustav Forsling admits he wasn’t happy that fellow Swede and role model Hjalmarsson was traded. But Forsling, who looked strong coming out of camp last September, knows he has to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I want to take the next step and play more,” he said. “I want to keep progressing my game and keep developing.”

The same goes for Jordan Oesterle, who the Blackhawks signed to a two-year deal on July 1.

“When I wanted to come here the opportunity was tremendous. Just the chance to come in and try to make the top six is there, it’s a battle with a number of us guys but that’s all you ask for in the situation I’m in,” he said. “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more. I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Again, the Blackhawks could re-address defense once they implement Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve after the season begins. General manager Stan Bowman said there’s “no exact plan” right now on how they use that space – “that’s probably going to be dictated by where we’re at when we get to October, how the team’s playing, what areas are strong, what areas we want to add to,” he said.

It remains to be seen on that front. Regardless, from coaching to personnel, much has changed with the Blackhawks defense.