Western Conference finals rematch? Not exactly

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Western Conference finals rematch? Not exactly

Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010
7:31 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. The Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks were the cream of the Western crop when they met in the conference finals last May. And despite the Blackhawks sweep in their playoff tilt, Patrick Sharp called it the toughest series of their postseason.

Flash forward six months to the present, and neither team is really where it wants to be. Be it personnel changes, slow starts or busy schedules, the Blackhawks and Sharks have struggled through inconsistent beginnings. So while there may be memories of past playoff series, both teams are more focused on working out present kinks.

I think were all going to look back and say, this is the rematch. I tend to live more in the present, San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. I see our team as a team that has some work to do. Were not the same team that played against the Blackhawks in May.

The Blackhawks arent the same, either. Adjusting to new players, lines, defensive pairings, early injuries, etc., has led to some ups and downs. It didnt help that the Blackhawks played so many games, either.

Its just been a brutal few weeks, playing every second day and a lot of new guys on the team, Dave Bolland said of the shakiness. It could have been just about finding chemistry.

The Blackhawks are looking at Saturdays victory vs. Vancouver as the benchmark of where they want to be. Theyre hoping a rare few days off with a Las Vegas trip in between will help jump-start that chemistry on and off the ice. Coach Joel Quenneville was encouraged by his teams practice on Tuesday, when the team looked rejuvenated and ready to go.

It was a fun couple of days to get away, get back to remembering how we went into that trip. The way we played in Vancouver is something we want to get right back and thats got to be our mindset, got to be our standard.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have lost three in a row entering Wednesdays game. They had two-goal road leads against Colorado and Dallas, only to squander both late in regulation and eventually lose in overtime. None of the Sharks were happy with their Saturday response at home, a 3-0 loss to Columbus.

They went through a determined practice on Monday and want to get back to taking advantage of their home ice, where theyre now 6-3-2 this season. Just winning, regardless of the opponent, is the Sharks focus right now.

We know were better than weve been, Joe Pavelski said. We havent executed quite as well as we should. It just hasnt happened for us quite yet but we need to find it quick here. Regardless of who were playing, whether Chicagos in town or whoever, its important for us.

That goes for the Blackhawks, too. For these two teams, times change and rosters change. But the need for victories and consistency never does.

This should be a good game and looking forward to it. We cant take any game for granted, Sharp said. We want to win every game. Thats what our focus is.

Niemi or not?

Will Antti Niemi start against his former team? San Jose coach Todd McLellan said hes letting his Wednesday night starting goaltender know he is the guy, but he wasnt telling the media on Tuesday afternoon. Asked if he took into consideration Niemis past with the Blackhawks, he said, absolutely. Otherwise, he wasnt tipping his hand.

Its a consideration we take into every start, he said. We feel that if hes the guy, we feel good about him playing against them. And if hes not the guy, hell eventually get his chance against them.

Good trip

The Blackhawks said they enjoyed their down time in the middle of this circus trip. But Patrick Kane said hes also ready to get back to hockey.

One thing is you can get away from the game and once its over youre ready to come back, he said. If anything it helped the team bond together even more. Hopefully we come together even closer.

Bolland agreed.

Its been a pretty busy two months, so it was good to get away from the rink and hockey, think about other things, he said. Now were back and ready to go.
Briefly

As of Tuesday, Duncan Keith is currently second in All-Star ballot voting (82,968), behind Sidney Crosby (118,755). Jonathan Toews is fifth with 79,953 votes.

Marty Turco will start Wednesday vs. San Jose. Turco is 24-14-1 lifetime vs. the Sharks.

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

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.