Chicago Blackhawks

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.

Could Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher be an option for Blackhawks?

Could Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher be an option for Blackhawks?

The calendar is quickly approaching August and a majority of the NHL's top free agents have already signed new deals or found new homes. But there's one marquee player who has suddenly shaken loose, and will surely draw heavy interest across the league.

That would be 22-year-old defenseman Will Butcher, who informed the Colorado Avalanche that he will hit the open market and become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15.

Butcher, a 2013 fifth-round draft pick, was named the recipient of the 2017 Hobey Baker Award, annually given to college hockey's top player, after scoring seven goals and 30 assists in 43 games during his senior campaign while helping Denver University capture its first national title since 2005. It's the second straight year NCAA's top player has elected not to sign with the club that drafted him, with Jimmy Vesey doing the same last year when he signed with the New York Rangers instead of the Nashville Predators.

So could Butcher be a real option for the Blackhawks? There's certainly a reason for both sides to be intrigued by a potential match. 

With Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya no longer in the picture, the Blackhawks could use a young, NHL-ready blue liner with top-four potential and Butcher provides just that.

He's a 5-foot-10, 186-pound puck-moving defenseman with high offensive upside but also plays a solid two-way game and is responsible in his own end. He carries a left-handed shot, quarterbacked Denver's No. 1 power play unit and possesses strong leadership skills after serving as the team's captain for two years.

While he is certainly no sure thing, Butcher would be as close to pro ready as any prospect in Chicago's system and could factor into the cards as soon as this season. It also doesn't hurt that he shared the same blue line at Denver as Blackhawks prospect Blake Hillman, who drew great reviews from Joel Quenneville at prospect camp.

The good news for the cap-crunched Blackhawks is that the maximum allowable salary for an entry-level contract is $925,000, so that eliminates the possibility of getting into a bidding war with other teams. Signing and performance bonuses can still be included, but that's the least of their worries if they can land a player of Butcher's caliber.

His decision will really come down to best fit and opportunity to play and win, and the Blackhawks can offer all of the above.

Niklas Hjalmarsson says goodbye to Chicago in emotional Instagram post

Niklas Hjalmarsson says goodbye to Chicago in emotional Instagram post

Niklas Hjalmarsson has called Chicago home ever since he was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2005. But now it's time for a new chapter.

After being traded to the Arizona Coyotes in June, the former Blackhawks defenseman officially said goodbye to the city he spent a decade in and helped bring three Stanley Cups to with an emotional Instagram post that perfectly sums up his time here:

One marriage. Two kids. Three rings. 

Hjalmarsson will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Blackhawks fans.