Underdog Hawks ready; Canucks 'hate' 'em

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Underdog Hawks ready; Canucks 'hate' 'em

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Posted: 7:56 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia For Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa, it doesnt matter that this Chicago Blackhawks group is quite different than the one that eliminated the Canucks the past two seasons.

When you put that (Blackhawks) jersey on, its instant hate in this dressing room, Bieksa said. Its a team we want to beat badly.

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Or maybe more a team the Canucks need to beat badly.

As the Blackhawks and Canucks meet for the third consecutive postseason beginning Wednesday night, theres certainly no shortage of story lines. For the Blackhawks, theyve been pretty good: two consecutive series triumphs over Vancouver and a Stanley Cup last season. They could also be getting forward Troy Brouwer (shoulder) back for Game 1. But the No. 1 Canucks are nevertheless the team to beat, and the eighth-seeded champs are, lets face it, dark horses.

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Thats probably where everybodys got us, coach Joel Quenneville said. Winning first game is paramount. Were on the road, were viewed as underdogs and coming into a building thats hard to win in. Weve played hard here, so have to be ready to be at our best.

Meanwhile, the Canucks are dealing with another problem: constant Cup pressure. They led the league in several categories, had a firm hold on the Western Conference and claimed the Presidents Trophy. But until they win that Cup, theyre never going to hear the end of it.

For the whole team, youre not going to be seen as great until youve won it all. There are always going to be questions until you win, Daniel Sedin said. (The Blackhawks) won. Nobodys questioning them. We have to prove we can win.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, dont want to fall into happy-to-be-here mode. After feeling euphoric on Monday, a day after Minnesotas victory over Dallas got them in, the Blackhawks were more in business mode at Tuesdays practice.

We want things to go our way, we want to win this series, Jonathan Toews said. Theres no working for 82 games just to make it to the playoffs and be happy with that. We want to get this series started on the right foot and hopefully move on after that.

Its the playoffs again and the pressures on again. The Blackhawks have been to the top of the heap. Now theyll play a Canucks team that badly wants take their place.

Theyve proven they can play on the big stage and play through adversity, challenges and the pressure that comes with winning four rounds to get your hands on the big prize, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. We think we can do it, were going to set out tomorrow to try to prove it. Weve worked all year long to finish first and were getting Cup champs. It doesnt get any better than that.

Brouwer close?

Troy Brouwer, whos missed a week with a right shoulder injury, could be in the lineup Wednesday against the Canucks.

Well say were hopeful hes a possibility (for Game 1), Quenneville said.

Brouwer practiced with the Blackhawks on Tuesday, although he was wearing a white non-contact jersey. Still, considering how big the series is and Brouwers family ties here, it may be hard to hold him out.
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Im comfortable and confident in (my shoulder) right now that I can jump in. Once you get into the heat of the game, a lot of things youre feeling you dont pay attention to anymore, Brouwer said. The playoffs are a time when you play through a few things and for me its no different. But I feel good and I can only tell the coach how I feel. Its his decision whats going to happen next.

Mullet musings

Patrick Kanes rush to get his mullet back for the postseason didnt sit well with Canucks left wing Tanner Glass, who sports his own.

Its embarrassing. Hes kind of mocked the mullet and Im not too pleased about that, to be honest, said Glass with a smile. I dont think there are (mullet) rules, but when you do it for a few months and then you cut it off, its mocking.

Battle tested

If Corey Crawford felt butterflies when he played in front of the hometown Montreal folks last week, theyll probably be there again tomorrow night when he starts his first NHL playoff game.

Then again, considering the Blackhawks dogfight to get in, Crawfords already had a taste of playoff-type hockey.

Well find out tomorrow but there have been a lot of tough games, Corey Crawford said. Its only going to prepare us for tomorrows game.

Quenneville has been happy with Crawfords preparation throughout this season.

You have to commend him on how hes approached all these games and continued to get the job done, he said. Hes consistent and quietly goes about his business.

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

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.