On deck: Two tests against the West

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On deck: Two tests against the West

The Blackhawks sidestepped The Long Island Trap Thursday. Yeah, they blew a 2-0 lead, and needed overtime, but overall it was still a solid road effort against a team whose only two losses in their last six games have come in extra time against the Hawks.

The fact theyd already beaten New York a week ago and were skating in a building with an awful atmosphere showed they were mentally and emotionally locked-in, and they seem to have done that better on the road of late (four straight wins) than at home (1-1-1 since returning from the Circus Trip).

Next up, theyll need to carry that over in their next two games against two of the best in the West one expected, the other a surprise. San Joses been spinning its wheels a bit of late, but got their second win in their last six Thursday vs. Dallas. The Hawks will be looking to avenge their 1-0 loss in a well-played game in the Shark Tank on Thanksgiving Eve, when Antti Niemi shut them out. The Hawks have a 7-point edge on the Sharks, but San Jose has four games in-hand.

After that Sunday game, its two more days off before a trip for their first up-close look at the Wild story in Minnesota. The Wild and Hawks have each played a conference-high 29 games, but Minny has a three-point edge, courtesy of a six-game win streak the last three of which have opened a 5-game trip (Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles). Theyll finish it off Saturday in Phoenix, then Tuesday in Winnipeg before coming home to finish off three games in four nights against the Hawks, so thats an advantage the visitors should have.

But while the Hawks are trying to climb up the defensive rankings (13th in the West entering the weekend), the Wild have done it with D under new head coach Mike Yeo. Their 2.14 goals-against average is just behind St. Louis as second-best in the West. The Hawks were able to solve that with perhaps their most complete game of the season last Saturday in St. Louis. Lets see if they can bring the same type of game in these next two outings. San Joses GAA, by the way, is fifth in the conference (2.40).

Even though theyve been inconsistent of late, the Blackhawks have still managed to stay near the top of the West. Some goaltending (and defensive) questions have come up, and theyll need more offensive balance, as I wrote after Thursdays win. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa all enter the weekend among the NHLs top-17 point producers (Toews tied for 2nd in goals, Kane tied for first in assists).

After bursting out of the gate, it seems at times this Hawks team needs to be challenged be it with the opponent theyre playing, or needing to bounce back after unexpected setbacks. They've hit a few bumps along the way this past month and these next two games should provide an interesting gauge on whether the arrows definitely pointing up.

Blackhawks' Artemi Panarin named 2016 Calder Trophy finalist

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Blackhawks' Artemi Panarin named 2016 Calder Trophy finalist

Artemi Panarin has been named a 2016 Calder Trophy finalist, annually awarded to the "most proficient" player in his rookie season in the National Hockey League.

Philadelphia's Shayne Gostisbehere and Edmonton's Connor McDavid rounded out the top 3.

Panarin, 24, led all rookies this season with 77 points — 30 goals, 47 assists — in 80 regular-season games. Seven of his 30 goals turned out to be the game-winner, which also ranked No. 1 among first-year players.

The last player to record at least 77 points during his rookie season was Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin when he compiled 85 points in 2006-07.

Panarin had one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history, with only Steve Larmer putting up more points (90) in 1982-83.

He became the first Blackhawks rookie to register four-point games in back-to-back contests when on April 1 against Winnipeg — two goals, two assists) and on April 3 against Boston — one goal, three assists.

Panarin also became the first rookie in franchise history to record multi-goal games in consecutive appearances — on Jan. 5 and 6 against the Penguins — since 2005 (Pavel Vorobiev).

Gostisbehere had 17 goals and 29 assists in 64 regular-season games this season with the Flyers. His 46 points ranked No. 1 among rookie defensemen despite getting called up to the NHL in mid-November.

McDavid had 48 points in 45 regular-season games this season with the Oilers. He missed three months with a collarbone injury, but ranked first among rookies in points per game (1.07).

The winner will be announced Wednesday, June 22 at the 2016 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

For Andrew Ladd, chance to play for a contender trumps money

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For Andrew Ladd, chance to play for a contender trumps money

Andrew Ladd’s second stint in Chicago was, in some ways, like his first one.

He had good teammates and enjoyed being around them again. He had nothing but good things to say about the organization that welcomed him here for the second time in his career.

The only difference was the abrupt postseason ending.

“It’s disappointing, for sure,” Ladd said during Wednesday’s wrap-up interviews. “You bring your family here and move your whole life. You want to make a run for it, make it worthwhile. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.”

Ladd’s stay with the Blackhawks is likely to be a brief one. They traded for the veteran, who was part of their 2010 Stanley Cup team, figuring he could be a key piece for another run. It wasn’t to be. Ladd had a quiet postseason, recording just two points in the Blackhawks’ seven-game series against the St. Louis Blues.

“It was a tight series, could’ve gone either way and that’s life,” he said. “You move on. Just happy to have the opportunity to come back and be a part of this group again.”

Ladd has reached that point in his career where he can look at the big picture. He’s won two Cups, one with the Blackhawks and the other with the Carolina Hurricanes. His family grew by another member earlier this month; Ladd brought his his son Walker Gordon, born April 14, home on Tuesday.

“It was a good day after what happened in St. Louis,” Ladd said. “It kind of put things in perspective when you can come home and take your mind off everything else.”

As for Ladd’s continuing hockey career, he said it’s not about getting the lucrative contract anymore as much as it’s about playing for a winner.

“I think I’m at the point in my career where I can make decisions based on being in a good situation. At the end of the day it’s not all about money for me. It’s about being in a good place for my family and being on a team that’s going to contend every year,” Ladd said. “You’d be crazy not to want to be a part of this group and this organization. We’ll see what happens.”

Chances are the Blackhawks and Ladd will not be together in the near future. The Blackhawks are once again facing a salary-cap crunch and, if there is a high-priority signee for them, it’s Andrew Shaw. Even that possibility is a tough one.

Still, Ladd’s not ruling anything out. Ladd’s latest playoff run with the Blackhawks was much shorter than he or they would have liked. But the Blackhawks have the pieces to contend again, and Ladd wouldn’t mind being a part of it.

“Every guy’s at a different point in his career in terms of what he wants to accomplish, whether he has a family or he’s getting on later in his career and wants to be part of a contender,” Ladd said. “There are a lot of things that go into that. You evaluate that individually and try to make the best decision possible for yourself and for your family. At the end of the day, you try to do whatever’s possible to be a part of a group and an organization like this.”

Blackhawks: Corey Crawford not among Vezina Trophy finalists

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Blackhawks: Corey Crawford not among Vezina Trophy finalists

Corey Crawford was not among the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, annually awarded to the league's top goaltender, the National Hockey League announced Wednesday.

Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop, Washington's Braden Holtby and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick were named candidates, which is voted on by the 30 general managers.

Bishop was named a finalist for the second time in his career after finishing third in 2013-14 while Quick is also a two-time nominee after earning a second-place finish in 2011-12.

Holtby, who tied an NHL record this season with 48 wins, is a first-time finalist.

Crawford set a career high with 35 wins, which was tied for fourth-best this season, despite missing one month with an upper-body injury. The Blackhawks netminder recorded a .924 save percentage, 2.37 goals against average and led the league with seven shutouts.

The winner will be announced Wednesday, June 22 at the 2016 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.