Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

The Blackhawks' season ended much sooner than expected after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Nashville Predators.

But for some players, their hockey season may not be finished yet.

The IIHF World Championships begin May 5, and an early postseason exit gives several Blackhawks an opportunity to play in the tournament.

With the National Hockey League saying it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, players may be more inclined to join given the uncertainty of when they'll be able to represent their countries again — if ever, for some.

Here's an update on which Blackhawks players could be participating:

— Patrick Kane said Saturday he's taking the weekend to mull over Team USA's offer, and will make a final decision in the next "day or two."

— Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews each declined their invites from Team Canada, electing to use a lengthy offseason to recharge and focus on training for the 2017-18 NHL season.

— Corey Crawford and Nick Schmaltz said they have not been contacted by their respective countries, but both said they would consider going if they are.

— Artemi Panarin has reportedly already accepted Team Russia's offer to play.

— Niklas Hjalmarsson said he's "thinking about" Team Sweden's offer after the NHL's decision not to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics. "Who knows when I'll ever get a chance to play for my country again, so that might be factor," he said.

— Marcus Kruger said he's talking with Team Sweden officials, and has expressed interest in going.

— Marian Hossa said he informed Team Slovakia that he will not be playing: "Let the young guys play."

— Richard Panik will not be participating either, saying he doesn't want to risk injury as he seeks a new contract.

Blackhawks still stunned, 'embarrassed' by quick exit

Blackhawks still stunned, 'embarrassed' by quick exit

The Blackhawks convened on Saturday for their annual locker clean-out/player evaluation day. It was a day that came a lot quicker than they expected, and two days after being swept out of the postseason, the bitter feelings hadn’t diminished a bit.

“Yeah, it’s embarrassing,” Duncan Keith said. “When you go into the playoffs you expect a long run and all of a sudden you’re out four straight. There’s no other way to describe it. Shocked, embarrassing, to me those are the words.”

There really wasn’t much to say on Saturday, as the Blackhawks still tried to figure out what went wrong in their lopsided series loss to the Nashville Predators. It wasn’t about losing that Stanley Cup-winning feeling, they said. But there was no doubt the Predators were the hungrier team; that, nobody among the Blackhawks denied.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Patrick Kane said of the Predators wanting it more. “If you watch that series or re-watch games, they seem like the faster team, the hungrier team. Maybe we were in a situation where we were maybe looking past a team like Nashville and thinking that we were going to go on, and it was going to be an easy series and we were just getting ourselves ready for what was to come down the road. It’s easy to say all of this stuff now, but I guess if you look back and watch the games, you could say they wanted it a bit more.”

Marian Hossa agreed.

“You know, there’s something right about it,” he said of Kane’s assessment. “In the regular season we had games where we beat them and maybe he’s right. But you have to give them so much credit because they gave us a hard time to try and make something happen. I don’t remember a series ending so early like this in my career and so few goals. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

It’s tough because any resemblance between the Blackhawks who garnered 109 regular-season points and the Blackhawks in that first-round series was purely coincidental. It was night and day.

“I think everyone thought they were at their best and it was the exact opposite. I think we’re missing what we had all year and it showed. It showed and against a team that maybe payed or had one of the best defensive efforts I’ve seen. They were all over the ice and it was a tough series to play in, especially when you expect so much,” Corey Crawford said. “We just weren’t the same team. I think anyone who was watching could pretty much see that.”

There was plenty of blame to go around and all among the Blackhawks, be it the brass or the coaches or the players, took their share of it. General manager Stan Bowman said it fell on him to field the best team. Coach Joel Quenneville said it was up to him to have the Blackhawks ready. Individual players pointed to what they didn’t do. But what’s done is done for this season. The Blackhawks failed, and while they say and know they need to move on, this will stay with them for a while.

“It’s not the fact that we lost. It’s how we lost I think when you look at it. I’m embarrassed — the way we played,” Brent Seabrook said. “It’s going to be a tough summer and that’s about it.”

Blackhawks still trying to break through Predators

Blackhawks still trying to break through Predators

It was something Marian Hossa repeated over and over again on Saturday night, because it was a problem for the Blackhawks over and over again in two consecutive games.

“It’s not good enough and we have to find a way to beat the neutral zone. That’s the number one thing,” Hossa said. “We’re trying to do too much and they’re just waiting for us in the neutral zone and it’s not going our way. We have to step back, play with more desperation. The first goal will be crucial. As soon as we break the first one, I believe we can create momentum out of it.”

Getting any goal has been an issue for the Blackhawks through the first two games of this first-round series against the Nashville Predators. The Predators have bottled things up on them and the Blackhawks haven’t found a consistent way of breaking through. 

“They have a pretty good defense and they play strong neutral zone,” Artem Anisimov said. “We just need to get through that and fight through the system and we’re going to be all right.”

Saying that has been one thing. Putting it into practice is another. Once again on Saturday the Blackhawks struggled to get through the Predators. When they did get good opportunities Pekka Rinne stopped him, or his goal posts did (Richard Panik and Jonathan Toews each hit one) or pucks bounced over sticks or off skates. As the game wore on the Blackhawks grew more frustrated.

Well, the Blackhawks are up against it now. They need to find a way to get through the Predators and get to Rinne on a consistent basis, or they’ll be heading to the offseason a lot sooner than they expected.

“We have so many guys who scored over 20 goals [in the regular season],” Hossa said. “Just get the first one and I’m sure they’re going to break some way and we can build on it.”

Lineup changes?

Coach Joel Quenneville said they could make a lineup change, “one or two,” for Game 3.

“But not too much difference, except how the compete level has to be raised and a couple of things we look at technically,” Quenneville said. “But certainly can’t be happy with [Saturday] night’s performance.”

Asked if defenseman Michal Kempny may be in, Quenneville said, “we’ll see.” One thing that won’t change is goaltender: Corey Crawford is expected to start on Monday night.

Hearing the boos

Fans at the United Center booed as the Blackhawks left the ice at second intermission on Saturday night. Players and coaches heard them and understood the fans’ frustration.

“It was tough. There was nothing you could really say about it. We weren’t playing our game,” Brent Seabrook said. “Fans in Chicago are great fans. They support us through thick and thin and we weren’t holding our end of the bargain [Saturday] night.”