Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

May 2013 Archives

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Shoot high. Take him out wide. Fire cross-slot one-timers.

It's easy to say how to beat Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. It's quite another thing to actually pull it off.

"He never gives up on the puck, he keeps battling through it and he keeps fighting for that second shot," Blackhawks winger Viktor Stalberg said. "Sometimes guys think they have an empty net, but somehow he finds a way back there. ... I don't think many pucks are going to beat him cleanly. I don't think we've seen too many highlight-reel goals."

No, when the Kings are on the ice, it's been almost all highlight-reel saves -- Quick darting from side to side, leaping after loose pucks, snatching one-timers from out of nowhere. His oft-replayed sprawling, flat-on-the-ice glove save on a second-effort lunge off a shot by San Jose's Joe Pavelski with 5:04 left in Game 7 on Tuesday night might have saved the series for the Kings.

Quick won the Conn Smythe for backstopping the Kings' march to the Stanley Cup as the eighth seed last spring. He's been every bit as good this postseason, overcoming a shaky start against the St. Louis Blues to post a 1.50 goals-against average and stop 94.8 percent of the shots he's faced. His aggressive style of goaltending -- he comes way out of the net to challenge shooters and cut off angles -- makes him seem vulnerable, but his incredible lateral quickness allows him to recover in time to make remarkable save after remarkable save.

"He goes after everything, never gives up, covers the bottom of the net so well," said Quick's counterpart, Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford.

It doesn't hurt that the Kings are a stout defensive team with a knack for blocking shots, clogging passing lanes and taking away those side-to-side one-timers -- "the correct play" against Quick, according to Marian Hossa -- that are the best way to beat an aggressive goalie.

It took the Hawks five games to finally solve Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard, crashing the net and getting ugly goals on the doorstep while mounting their comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in the Western Conference semifinal. Quick, however, is exceptional at finding the puck in those goalmouth scrums. The trick is to shoot high on him (if Pavelski had managed that, the Sharks might be in Chicago right now instead of the Kings). Again, easier said than done when the Kings defensemen are taking away time and space, and Quick is locked in on the puck.

"From just watching the last series, he is low -- he likes to almost look through guys' legs for the puck," Stalberg said. "So that's an area where he might be beat."

The Hawks hadn't yet watched video of Quick as of Friday's practice at Johnny's IceHouse West. The plan was to break down film in the morning before Saturday afternoon's Western Conference final opener. But the Hawks are hockey fans, too, and watched plenty of the Kings-Sharks series on TV. They know exactly what they're up against.

Yes, the Hawks scored 12 goals on Quick in three regular-season games this year, two of them wins. But there's something about the playoffs that turns Quick superhuman. And nobody in the last two seasons has managed to find his Kryptonite.

"It seems like you say it against every goalie, but you want to get traffic, you want to make sure he's not seeing the puck, and when you do get those second opportunities, try to elevate the puck into the upper half of the net," Patrick Kane said. "He's a great goaltender, he's been playing very well in the playoffs for a couple years now, and he seems to get better and better. We definitely have our work cut out for us."

Patrick Kane in action.jpgThe Red Wings were 20 minutes from advancing to the Western Conference finals when they got a full dose of the Blackhawks' ''compete level.''

It remains to be seen if the Hawks' three-goal spree at the start of the third period in Game 6 becomes the defining moment of the series. But it made an impression on Red Wings rookie defenseman Brendan Smith.

''When their backs are against the wall, they push even harder. It's pretty impressive to see that,'' Smith said Wednesday after the Red Wings' morning skate at the United Center. ''A lot of those skill guys actually got a little chippy and try to work a little bit harder and fought battles a little bit more. It's impressive to see the competition level bump up that much more.''

Brandon Saad.jpgUnsung heroes often emerge in Game 7s. Brandon Saad is eager for that opportunity in the first Game 7 of his hockey career tonight against the Red Wings at the United Center.

The 20-year-old Saad has played well in the 2013 postseason but has yet to score. It's similar to his start in the regular season when he eventually got on track.

''Pretty similar,'' Saad said. ''It's the playoffs. It's different. But at the same time, it's about time I get one here tonight.''

Saad started the postseason on the Hawks' first line but now is on the third line with Viktor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw. He said he's anxious to get on the board.

''Yeah, it's been a battle in the playoffs,'' Saad said. ''And to break through tonight would be something special. You always want to help the team win and produce offensively. You never know what could happen.''

Brent Seabrook said what he's supposed to say in a situation like this.

"It's just a normal game," the Blackhawks defenseman said a little less than eight hours before Wednesday night's Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings. "You've got to treat it like a normal game."

Yeah. Good luck with that.

While the Hawks have faced elimination in each of their last two games, there's nothing quite like a Game 7. The United Center will be rocking, the world will be watching, and the excitement level will keep rising throughout the day. Even the players feel that.

"It's really the best time of year," Patrick Kane said. "This is the biggest game this time of year -- Game 7, second round, no other games on TV and no other games pretty much around the world. It's really exciting to be a hockey player in a game like this."

The trick is to use that excitement and the hot crowd to fuel a fast start, while reining in the emotions that even the most experienced professional athlete feels in such a pressure-packed environment.

"It's really easy to get excited and ready for this one, but at the same time you don't want to make mistakes and put too much pressure on yourself," Kane said. "It's tough to say you want to take it as any other game, because it's not, but just go out there and play our game, play the way we have the last two, and we should be successful."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said his team has had the right mind-set since falling behind 3-1 in the series.

"Watching our group out here today and yesterday, I think we haven't changed at all the last four or five days," he said. "It's been consistent. We're excited, we're looking forward to it, and you've got to commend them on their approach."

Both teams said that the start would be key -- for the Hawks, to keep the momentum and rev up the crowd, and for the Wings, to quiet the crowd and put the pressure back on the Hawks to rally yet again. Mike Babcock was asked if he was just hoping to "survive" the first 10 minutes, and the Red Wings coach scoffed.

"No, that's not the plan at all," Babcock said. "I thought that's what we did in our building [in Game 6]. We didn't win a faceoff in the first 10 minutes. All the Game 7s I've ever been involved in, the start is so critical."

That said, Babcock didn't want his players feeling the pressure of the situation, only the excitement.

"We talk about Game 7 like it's something to avoid," he said. "It's as much fun as you can have in hockey. It's about having fun. When you do what you're supposed to do and you're organized and you trust your teammates and you trust your structure -- let's play."

Detroit has far more experience in dealing with the emotions of a Game 7 than the Hawks do. Only Marian Hossa (six) and Michal Handzus (four) have played in more than one Game 7 among the Hawks active players. Meanwhile, nine Red Wings who'll likely be dressing tonight have played in at least four.

Most of the Hawks' only experience came in 2011, when they rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7 in Vancouver. The Hawks lost 2-1 in overtime.

"A lot of guys were in here against Vancouver when we lost in Game 7, when we fought back from 3-0, and that's one of those things we're going to draw off tonight," Seabrook said. "A lot of guys bring their own experiences into this kind of game, but we're looking forward to getting off to a start and making some new memories tonight."

Show us your Blackhawks Game 7 face, Chicago

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Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood shared his game face in a tweet before last night's concert at the United Center. Show us yours using #Letsgohawks on Twitter and we'll share it in the gallery after the jump.



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Chicago Sun-Times Blackhawks beat writer Mark Lazerus is taking your questions on Twitter from 3-4 today. Use #HawksChat to join the conversation.

Oh, and while we're at it, share your Game Face using #LetsgoHawks and we'll publish it here.

The NHL released the potential schedule for the Western Conference final should the Blackhawks beat the Red Wings in Wednesday night's Game 7. Here it is. Note the back-to-back games this weekend, likely a result of the Rolling Stones playing the United Center on Friday and Monday. All times are central.

Saturday, June 1 4 p.m. Los Angeles at Chicago NBC Sports Network, TSN, RDS

Sunday, June 2 7 p.m. Los Angeles at Chicago NBC Sports Network, TSN, RDS

Tuesday, June 4 8 p.m. Chicago at Los Angeles NBC Sports Network, TSN, RDS

Thursday, June 6 8 p.m. Chicago at Los Angeles NBC Sports Network, CBC, RDS

*Saturday, June 8 7 p.m. Los Angeles at Chicago NBC, CBC, RDS

*Monday, June 10 8 p.m. Chicago at Los Angeles NBC Sports Network, CBC, RDS

*Wednesday, June 12 TBD Los Angeles at Chicago NBC Sports Network, CBC, RDS

Mike Rozsival.jpgThe Blackhawks have momentum, confidence and home ice heading into Game 7 of their playoff series with the Red Wings on Wednesday night at the United Center -- not that any of that means anything.

The Blackhawks have squandered all three in the course of this series, which makes Wednesday's result unpredictable, though on paper the Hawks are favored to advance after recovering from a 3-1 deficit in the series and a 2-1 deficit in the third period of Game 6 to force a deciding game.

''You've got to feel better about yourself coming off two wins,'' said captain Jonathan Toews, who had a goal and two assists in victories in Games 5 and 6. ''But at the same time you have to keep your feet on the ground the same way we did when we were down 3-1 in the series. We know that it's one game at a time and we can't worry about too many things at once.''

Since a wire-to-wire victory in Game 1, the Hawks have struggled with the wind at their back in this series. They led 1-0 in Game 2 and not only lost the lead but allowed four unanswered goals in a 4-1 loss.

Chicago Sun-Times Blackhawks beat writer Mark Lazerus asked for Rolling Stones-themed questions for the Blackhawks - the Stones play the United Center tonight. Here's a look at what was offered:

Corey Crawford avoids repeat of 2012 nightmare

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Corey Crawford.jpgThe goal Corey Crawford allowed to give the Red Wings a 2-1 lead in Game 6 was so soft that even in victory, Crawford could only talk about it three times.

''Ahhh. I already answered it. I'm done with it,'' Crawford said when asked a fourth time about Joakim Andersson's shot from the top of the left faceoff circle the fluttered past him in the second period.

Crawford is understandably sensitive about the whole soft-goa thing. He allowed two of them that paved the way for the Blackhawks' playoff demise in the first round against the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012. And Andersson's would have haunted him for a long time had Crawford and the Hawks not recovered for a 4-3 victory at Joe Louis Arena.

''I just lost it. I lost it. It's a brutal one, obviously,'' Crawford said. ''But I was able to rebound after that.''

Blackhawks beat Wings in Game 6.jpgWas this the 2013 Blackhawks' defining moment?

''Yeah, if we pass this round, for sure,'' Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said after the Hawks rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the third period to beat the Red Wings 4-3 in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals.

''But [Game 7 is] going to be the toughest game to win. [The Wings are] really good defensively. It's tough to get a lot of goals at 'em. We just have to try to create a lot of chances and just maybe power plays can get a couple of goals again and hopefully we can end up going to the third round.''

After a lot of uncertainty and adversity, parallels to the Hawks 2010 championship season kicked into high gear Monday night, when the Hawks eschewed an easier path to forcing Game 7 against the Red Wings and instead decided to do things the hard way.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first period on Marian Hossa's goal, the Hawks could have carried the momentum against a Red Wings team feeling the pressure of having to win at home and systematically taken control of the game.

Instead, they frittered away that momentum in the first period before allowing a tying goal by Patrick Eaves with 1:09 left in the period. And they increased their degree-of-difficulty by wilting in the second period, with Corey Crawford -- outstanding through most of the postseason -- allowing the almost perfunctory soft goal on a long fluttering shot by Joakim Andersson to give the Wings a 2-1 lead heading into the third period.

Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers was fined Monday for his actions during warmups before Game 5 at the United Center on Saturday. TSN's Darren Dreger reported that it was a $1,600 fine -- half a day's pay. Mayers, who has been a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs, fired a handful of pucks from his end of the ice down at the Red Wings net, through Detroit players.

"I was trying to get under their skin," Mayers told reporters following Monday's morning skate. "The league fined me and took the appropriate action. I'll pay the piper."

Show us your Blackhawks game face, Chicago

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Can't make it to Detroit? That's okay, we wouldn't want to go there either. Show us how you're watching the game today by using #letsgohawks on Twitter and we'll feature it in the gallery below:

There's been a lot of talk during this Western Conference semifinal about how the Red Wings' top two lines have neutralized the Blackhawks' top two lines, and how the frustration had mounted for players such as Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.

The flip side of that story, however, is that the Hawks' top two lines have essentially done the same thing to Detroit. Pavel Datsyuk has one goal and no assists this series, while Henrik Zetterberg has no goals and three assists.

"We do the same job against each other," Datsyuk said. "It's like that the whole series."

Up until the Hawks' breakout 4-1 win in Game 5, Detroit's role players -- including the third line of Damien Brunner (two goals, one assist), Gustav Nyquist (one goal) and Joakim Andersson (two assists) -- had been carrying much of the offensive load.

Datsyuk said there has been no frustration in the Wings dressing room about the stars' lack of production.

"Everybody knows the goal is to win [the] series," Datsyuk said. "Nobody cares about this. ... Team. Our team [is] our star."

Hawks winger Marian Hossa, held just one assist since his Game 1 goal, echoed those sentiments down the hall in the Chicago dressing room.

"Everybody would like [to get goals], but it doesn't matter who scores, as long as we win the hockey game," Hossa said. "We're facing the top two lines against the top two lines, so you kind of cancel each other out. We have to be playing extremely well defensively against each other, because you [can't] give them a little room."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock said he figured this series would come down to the bottom two lines and the blue line, given the two-way talent on each teams' scoring lines.

"That's normally what happens in hockey," Babcock said. "That's why they give you a third line, and that third line's supposed to win you the series. That's what happened for Chicago and Anaheim in the regular season -- their third line was better than everyone else's. ... That's what's happened for us, is our third line's gotten better. The third line, like the rest of our group the other night, was not very good. If we're going to be successful, we need our third and fourth lines to be good. Their third and fourth lines were better than ours the other night."

Defenseman Brendan Smith, who's chipped in a goal and an assist, agreed.

"They always want to get on the board; they're our best players," Smith said of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. "But I think our team is a little different, where it seems that a lot of people have stepped up and scored timely goals. You saw a bunch of the young guys in Nyquist and Brunner and we've had some 'D' score, so I think it's not just those guys with our team. I think maybe with Chicago, those big guys have consistently got on the board a lot, so I think that can be frustrating for them if they don't continue to do that in the playoffs.

"Obviously, they want to get on the board and when they do, it helps our team out that much more. But I think when we're scoring, it's more of a team effort. There's a lot of people chipping in for us. That's how we're successful."

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Joel Quenneville is putting the old band together for Game 5 of their second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. As the Blackhawks coach always has done during desperate, tough times, it looks like he'll reunite Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for a do-or-die night.

It's a line that's work exceptionally well in the past for the Hawks, but always has been disbanded in favor of more balance in their forward lines. But down 3-1 to the Red Wings in the best-of-seven series, it may be Quenneville's best chance to ignite a stagnant offense.

But the Red Wings are ready for it.

Actually they say they're ready for anything from the Hawks.

At Saturday's morning skate, Patrick Kane skated with Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. There's no guarantee that those three will be together for tonight's Game 5 against the Red Wings -- Hawks coach Joel Quenneville changed his lines between the skate and Game 4 on Thursday -- but Kane, for one, hopes to get the old band back together.

"Hopefully, for sure," he said. "Because we'd like to have that opportunity to step up and do something here."

Somebody has to for the Blackhawks, who've scored just two goals in the last three games. And in times of desperation, Quenneville has often resorted to putting those big three together.

"For us three, we played a lot together my first couple of years in the league, and just kind of developed some chemistry where it was pretty instant and had a lot of offensive chances," Kane said. "So I think we've just got to remember how to play with each other; we haven't done it in a while. Hopefully we can get a good first couple shifts and get some chemistry back right away."

Of course, there's a downside to putting the three together.

"We like more of the balance and probably more lines that are a threat to score," said Quenneville, who wouldn't say for sure if the morning lines would hold.

Aside from that line, Michal Handzus centered Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw centered Brandon Saad and Viktor Stalberg, and Dave Bolland centered Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik.

Quenneville has the home-ice advantage of making the last change, which means he can keep Toews away from Henrik Zetterberg, who has hounded him all series. But Quenneville said the top two lines for each team have neutralized each other defensively. Regardless of what Quenneville does, Detroit coach Mike Babcock didn't seem terribly concerned.

"We've got [Pavel] Datsyuk on one unit, Zetterberg on another unit," Babcock said. "I assume Toews has to play against one of them, and I assume Handzus has to play against the other."

There's no doubt that immediately before, during and immediately after the national anthem tonight, the United Center is going to be rocking.

The trick for the Blackhawks is keeping it loud.

With tensions high as the Hawks face elimination in tonight's Game 5 with the Detroit Red Wings, an early Hawks goal could blow the roof off the United Center. An early Red Wings goal, however, could silence it.

"It'd certainly be nice to start with a lead and get the crowd right into the game right off the bat," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It could go both ways, but certainly that'd be the perfect start. It's been very tight and [if you] look at all the games, scoring early in the game's been hard to do. Make sure that we put some pressure [early] and get that crowd into it and take home ice and use that to our advantage."

Detroit, of course, has other ideas.

"I think the first goal is important," winger Daniel Cleary said. "I think both teams like to play with a lead. Saying that, it'd be important for us to get it, quiet it down a little bit."

Any goal would be huge for the Hawks at this point. They've scored just two in the last three games combined.

"It's huge," Patrick Kane said of getting the first goal. "It'd be nice to play with the lead -- we haven't done that in the last couple of games. It'd be nice to do that and maybe get in [Jimmy] Howard's head a little bit, at least -- he's playing great right now. Seems like they've had a lot of breaks as far as posts, and he's made some big saves for them. Just try to control the tempo of the game, try to get that first one and play with a lead."

The desperation factor could play in the Hawks' favor. The Red Wings know it well, having climbed out of a 3-2 hole against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round.

"I don't know if it's that easy to match it," Cleary said. "You can say you want to, but they've got a lot of character on their team, these guys have won before, they've trailed before, just like we have. We know [how] an elimination game is at the beginning, how determined the other team is. You've got to focus on your own game and you've got to make sure that you're skating, match their intensity. And it's going to be loud early. The start, the first 10 minutes, will be important."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock said his team will be every bit as desperate to close out the series as the Hawks are to extend it

"I don't know how they can be any more desperate, or any more scared than we are," Babcock said. "A little fear is a wonderful thing to help you prepare to do your job and life."

Two springs ago, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks found themselves down 3-0 in the first round against the Vancouver Canucks. The series was over. And then it wasn't.

The Hawks won three straight games to force a Game 7, then Jonathan Toews scored with less than two minutes left to force overtime, before the Canucks finally escaped with a victory. Thirteen current Hawks played in that Game 7, and they hope to draw confidence from the experience.

"It's huge," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Everybody's counting us out now except us in here. That's the only thing you can really do, is look back at past experiences and go from there."

There have been 229 teams that have trailed 3-1 in Stanley Cup playoff history. Twenty have come back to win. It last happened twice in 2010, as Montreal rallied to beat Washington, and Philadelphia became the first team since the 1975 Islanders to erase a 3-0 deficit, beating Boston. Daniel Carcillo was on that Flyers team that eventually lost to the Hawks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Joel Quenneville's St. Louis Blues won a first-round series against the Phoenix Coyotes in 1999 after trailing 3-1.

"Things happen," Quenneville said. "Momentum -- we talk about how important it is come playoff time. [The Red Wings] obviously have it right now, but one game can turn everything around. And I think that's what we're looking for. I think the big picture looks pretty bleak, but at the same time, we've got two home games here. Go one at a time, and getting off to a big start is what we're looking for."

Said Jonathan Toews: "It just goes to show that things like that are possible, that we were very, very close to winning that series. I'm sure Detroit knows, and we know, that this series is long from being over -- that [Saturday] night's going to be the toughest game for both teams. We can keep that in our hip pocket, I guess, just knowing that if we win one game, we focus on one game at a time, there's a way out of it. We're not worried about winning three in a row yet, we want to win tomorrow and we'll go from there."

Seabrook tight-lipped.jpgNo matter how reticent the Blackhawks are to dissect Brent Seabrook's disappearing act, the playing time tells the story: Seabrook, one of the defensive stalwarts of the 2010 Stanley Cup championship core the Blackhawks so dearly worked to keep intact, is in a slump.

Seabrook's playoff-low 12:03 of playing time in the Hawks' 2-0 loss to the Red Wings is an alarming number for a player of his caliber on a five-year, $29 million contract. The eight-year veteran averaged 22:00 of ice time in the regular season, second highest on the team behind iron man Duncan Keith.

''Maybe we're talking about the matchup,'' coach Joel Quenneville said when asked why the pairing of Seabrook and Nick Leddy (8:38) had limited ice time in Game 4. ''We've been looking at pairings across the board, whether we're looking for more even minutes as we go along. But moreso the pairing and the matchups were [why] their minutes were down the last couple of games.''

With the Blackhawks trailing 3-1 in the series and facing elimination, Quenneville indicated changes in the defensive pairings -- currently Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Seabrook-Leddy and Michal Rozsival-Johnny Oduya -- could be made for Game 5 on Saturday night at the United Center.

''We'll see,'' he said.

Jonathan Toews hits the ice.jpgJonathan Toews and the Blackhawks will practice at the United Center on Friday in an attempt to regroup and rediscover the regular-season magic that has disappeared in their playoff series with the Detroit Red Wings.

The Hawks are in an unenviable position -- only 20 of 229 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in a Stanley Cup playoff series have recovered to win the series. The last team to do that was Philadelphia against Boston in the 2010 Eastern Conference finals -- on their way to losing to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

On the other hand, they still are the Blackhawks, a top-seeded team that set the pace in the regular season with 77 points in 48 games and earned the President's Trophy. They have two games at home, meaning they still only need to win one road game if they can hold serve at the United Center.

And though it so far has rung hollow, Jonathan Toews is still Jonathan Toews, a renowned leader with a sterling reputation for being a winner. Three penalties in one six-minute stretch and a heated rant at an official from the penalty box (''No [bleeping] way!'') erases that.

''We're all frustrated. It's not about one guy,'' Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said after Thursday night's 2-0 loss to the Wings at Joe Louis Arena that dropped them into a 3-1 hole in their Western Conference semifinal series. ''We're a whole team team in here. Jonny's the first one to say that. We're all frustrated. We're not happy with the situation we're in. But no one's going to feel sorry for themselves. It's a tough task to find our way out of it.''

Toews and Kane.jpgViktor Stalberg has seen enough of teammate Jonathan Toews to know the Hawks' captain will break out of his playoff scoring slump.

''I've got a feeling he'll probably score here tonight,'' Stalberg said prior to Game 4 of the Blackhawks conference semifinal series against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. ''He's usually that guy that when we need him the most he's going to find a way to get it done. So I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a big game here tonight.''

Though Toews is in a scoring slump, he has a history of making an impact eventually.

''He is like that. It's kind of remarkable to see,'' Stalberg said. ''I just remember my first year in the playoffs when we were down a goal to Vancouver in Game 7 -- shorthanded he finds a way to score. That's just how he is. When we needed him the most, in stretches when we neeed to win games he's been the best player. I'm sure he'll be even better and he'll find a way to get it done.''

Stalberg is a perfect example of how fickle fate can be in playoff hockey. In the Hawks' 3-1 loss to the Red Wings in Game 3 on Monday night, he had an almost certain goal hit the crossbar and stay out of the net, then had the tying goal disallowed for goaltender interference.

''Tough bounce, but it happens. You can't complain about it,'' Stalberg said. ''It's something we don't think about too much right now. We lost the game, so be it. We've got to be hungry tonight.''

A little less than eight hours before the critical Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, Jonathan Toews didn't look like a guy who was frustrated, who was angry, who was worried.

He looked like a guy who was, well, having fun.

"The talk the last few days has been the adversity that we're facing, but we knew that this was going to be tough series -- this is Detroit," Toews said with his team trailing the Red Wings 2-1 in the series. "So we're not running into anything that we didn't expect. ... It seems to be the first time that we're running into some tough adversity, but there's nothing wrong with that. It's something you have to embrace come playoff time. You don't win a Stanley Cup without going through something like that. We have to welcome it. And whatever they throw at us, we've got to smile and throw it right back in their face. That's what playoff hockey's all about. We've got to enjoy it."

Toews was indeed smiling, and most of the Hawks seemed to be in a rather good mood after an unusually focused morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. If the pressure's mounting, they weren't showing it.

"Our group's been fine. We're definitely disappointed, we haven't been in this position all year. We've quietly gone about our business and [they've] gotten our attention over the last couple of games. The focus has got to be in the right place. We want to play our best game of the year tonight, and we're going to need it."

After a disastrous Game 2, the Hawks felt they played a strong game in Game 3, particularly in the third period. The way they see it, if a break or two had gone their way, they'd be the team up 2-1 in the series. Of course, they're not. And the fact that one of their better efforts wasn't good enough to beat the surging Red Wings might not have damaged the Hawks' confidence, but it certainly boosted Detroit's.

"It shows that we have a lot of confidence and we're playing close to our best hockey right now, and that's what we want to keep doing," said defenseman Brendan Smith. "I think we've still got to work on a few things. I don't think we've played a full 60 minutes and that's something we're going to need to do tonight, because we all know Chicago's going to come out blazing. It's such an important game. Seems like every game gets more important -- it's unbelievable how that works. They're going to up their ante and we're going to have to do the same."

The sense in the Red Wings dressing room is that they're getting better every game, and that they're peaking at the right time.

"I think so," Justin Abdelkader said. "I think we've seen it before, where we've been a top seed in the playoffs and playing a team that's hot coming into the playoffs and playing well. That says something. For a team that's been fighting for our playoff lives the last month, we kind of found our game and know the way we've got to play to be successful. So I think that's been good for us."

Toews didn't deny that the Wings are gaining confidence with each game. But he believes if the Hawks put forth their best effort, it shouldn't matter.

"Maybe so, but so are we," Toews said. "We're going to keep believing in ourselves. There was a reason we made it this far. We're a good team -- we're a really good team. We have a lot of players with some great ability in this locker room, and when you put it all together and we play the right way, we're an amazing, amazing bunch of guys. We've got to be confident in this locker room. Just have fun with it. There's not going to be any panic in our game tonight, we're going to go out there and do a job and keep fighting the way we have.

"We're a confident, happy group right now. We're excited to play tonight."

Toews.jpgJonathan Toews, mired in a playoff scoring slump with no goals and three assists in eight games, usually makes his presence felt eventually. And Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith knows it's coming.

''He's going to find his way on the board. It's something that we know,'' Brendan Smith said. ''We're going to try to keep him off as long as possible. These players, they're so competitive. They're so good that they'll find a way. It's something that we're just going to keep trying to eliminate. He's had some bad bounces where he's hit the post and stuff.''

The Red Wings have neutralized Toews with even more physical play than the Minnesota Wild did in the opening series. Toews responded with an outstanding effort in Game 3 -- all that was missing were the points.

"I think it's just being very aware of him and playing him hard,'' Smith said. ''I think just the will to battle. He's a very strong guy. He battles so hard. If you battle just as hard it'll help our whole game and that's what's been good for us in shutting him down.''

It seems unlikely that Toews will stay this quiet. The Wings just hope he doesn't break through at a critical time -- like when Toews had a hat trick and five-point game in a critical Game 4 at Vancouver in 2010; or when he scored the tying goal shorthanded with two minutes to go in Game 7 against Vancouver in 2011; or when he scored the winning goal in overtime in Game 6 against the Phoenix Coyotes to keep the Hawks alive in that first-round series in 2012.

''He's a great player. Don't get me wrong. We know it's going to happen,'' Smith said. ''We just have to make sure that we keep playing him hard and making sure that we're very aware of him because he is arguably their best player.''

Blackhawks shake up power play units for Game 4

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Joel Quenneville tried putting all his top guys on one power play unit, and it didn't work. So now he's trying to spread the wealth again.

At Wednesday's practice, the Blackhawks' top power play unit had Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith at the points, with Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell up front. The second unit featured Michal Rozsival and either Brent Seabrook or Nick Leddy at the point, with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw.

"We're just looking for a little more balance on the units," Quenneville said. "Hopefully, we'll get some production."

The Hawks are just 3-of-22 on the power play this postseason, including 0-of-6 in losses to Detroit in Games 2 and 3. Even a unit featuring all-stars Keith, Sharp, Hossa, Toews and Kane struggled to get anything past Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard.

"The last couple games, it hasn't been very good," Keith said. "So probably expect some changes there."

Bickell's addition in front of the net gives the Hawks a big body to both deflect shots and block Howard's vision.

"Howard's playing great, he's a hot goaltender right now," Shaw said. "Getting big bodies like Bicks in front of the net and finding those loose pucks and putting them home, I think it's going to be great for us. ... They have big defensemen and they can move you pretty well. We've just got to battle and compete and try to take his eyes away as much as possible."

As for 5-on-5 scenarios, Sharp again skated on the top line, to the left of Toews and Hossa. Saad again was with Dave Bolland and Kane on the second line. Quenneville made that move in Game 3, and liked the results. Toews and Saad have combined for no goals and four assists this postseason.

"We weren't having a ton of success, so we mixed up the lines a little bit," Saad said. "And I thought we played well last time."

Andrew Shaw dishes it out.jpgFrustration seemed on the verge of boiling over in the final minute of the Blackhawks' 3-1 loss to the Red Wings that put them in a 2-1 hole in their Western Conference playoff series. But the Hawks are acting like they've been here before. And they have.

''We're down 2-1, but it's not the end of the world,'' defenseman Michal Rozsival said Tuesday at the United Center. ''We're playing a good opponent. It's not over yet.''

After winning the series opener 4-1 at the United Center, the Blackhawks lost 4-1 at home in Game 2 and 3-1 in Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena on Monday night. They are undaunted by the prospect of going down 3-1 with another game at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday night.

''It's gonna be a long series. I think we knew that going in,'' Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said. ''You never want to lose games, but you can certainly take positives out of it and build off things.''

After a less-than-stellar effort in Game 2, the Hawks increased their ''compete level'' in all phases of the game in Game 3 and still lost by two goals. But after missing out on several good scoring opportunities -- particularly Viktor Stalberg's close-in shot that hit the crossbar and Stalberg's third-period goal that was disallowed for goaltender interference -- the Hawks figure the same effort could bring better results in Game 4.

''I don't think there's any worry or panic in our locker room,'' Sharp said when asked about the team's scoring troubles -- two goals in the last two games. ''We created a few chances. There were plenty of opportunities out there, hit a couple of posts. Goals are gonna come when you least expect them.''

Jonathan Toews hangin' in there.jpgJonathan Toews knows his team needs him to step up, but the Blackhawks captain isn't going to force the issue. While stars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin take over games seemingly at their whim, Toews just kind of happens. And he isn't going to change his approach now.

''I just have to play with energy every single shift and be as tough as [possible] to play against,'' Toews said Monday at Joe Louis Arena after the team's morning skate prior to Game 3 of the Hawks' Western Conference semifinal series against the Red Wings.

''You keep working, eventually you chip away, something's going to happen for you. Somebody's going to make a mistake on the other team and you just hope for those breaks.''

In seven playoff games, Toews has zero goals and three assists with an even plus-minus rating. He doesn't deny that he feels the pressure to score goals.

''I always do,'' he said. ''Maybe a little added pressure given the situation. Right now I'm just not letting it build up too much in my own mind. Sometimes you start squeezing the stick and the rest of your game goes down hill. I'm not letting that happen. But I know that sooner or later something's got to give. Hopefully I'll be able to find a way to contribute in a big way for my team.''

Because everybody loves a goaltender controversy, even when there is none, a reporter asked Blackhawks net minder Corey Crawford following Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings if he was suddenly feeling the pressure of a healthy Ray Emery behind him.

Crawford sighed and said, "No, not at all."

Of course, Crawford was hardly to blame the Game 2 defeat. His defense -- which has been so good all season -- all but abandoned him. On Detroit's second goal, Niklas Hjalmarsson fell down in his own end, leading to Brendan Smith's go-ahead goal. On the next one, Hjalmarsson was burned by Johan Franzen on a Jonathan Ericsson stretch pass. And on the last one, Brent Seabrook was beaten to a loose puck off a faceoff the Hawks actually won, leading to an end-to-end rush and a Valtteri Filppula goal.

The Hawks defense was determined to redeem itself in Monday's Game 3.

"Absolutely," Seabrook said. "We weren't happy with the way we played defensively as a group of defensemen. We've got to come out and have a better effort and give Crow a better opportunity to make some saves, and give him the chance to play well in there and not leave him out to dry."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said the defensive problems went beyond the blue line. The Hawks' success this season has been built on team defense, from the forwards on back. But the Red Wings had their way in Game 2.

"Our whole team defensively was off," Quenneville said. "They attacked us well. And we didn't do a good job in certain areas of the rink. We gave up a lot more than we obviously did in the first game. We can be better in all areas, defensively."

In other news, Viktor Stalberg is indeed back in the lineup for Game 3, as Quenneville will reunite the highly successful third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Stalberg. Stalberg had been benched for the first two games, with Dave Bolland playing center and Shaw moving to right wing. Bolland appears to be back on the second line with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, while Michal Handzus drops to the fourth line, moving Marcus Kruger (who has struggled mightily with faceoffs lately) to right wing and bumping Daniel Carcillo from the lineup.

"We have some options in games," Quenneville said. "We'll see how things are going. We came out of that first series, I thought as a team we could be better. But that [third] line for the majority of the season played together, and I thought they did a good job throughout most of the season. Viktor gives them some speed to that line, as well, that unpredictability off the rush. They did have a lot of offensive zone time this year."

Said Shaw: "It's good to get back together. We played well this year as a group, and having Stally back gives us that speed. We're ready to go."


Blackhawks winger Viktor Stalberg out for Game 2

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Speedy winger Viktor Stalberg will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game today as the Blackhawks host the Red Wings for Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Stalberg was scratched for Game 1 to make room for Dave Bolland, returning from a groin injury that kept him out of the first-round series against the Minnesota Wild. Bolland moved to third-line center, bumping Andrew Shaw to right wing and Stalberg out of the lineup.

After an impressive Game 1 win, there was virtually no chance Quenneville was going to put Stalberg back in and shake things up.

"We had to get Bolly in a winning lineup from Minnesota," Quenneville said. "I don't like changing too much, but we wanted to get him in the lineup. It's comparable to what we've done throughout the season. We'll see. We can adapt and we can change at any moment."

The other candidate to be scratched with Bolland's return was fourth-line left wing Daniel Carcillo. But Carcillo played well in Game 1 in limited action, playing just 6:04 but picking up the primary assist on Marcus Kruger's third-period goal.

"I liked his game," Quenneville said. "I liked when he came in the last series, as well. I thought he gave us some energy and purpose behind his game, as well. Not a lot of minutes, but I thought he brought energy to all the shifts, and was in the right spots, too."

TOPOF1-LCN-041113_37838531.JPG
Blackhawks winger Viktor Stalberg is still in Joel Quenneville's dog house. | AP

Blackhawks winger Viktor Stalberg was still in a white jersey, still skating outside the top four lines at Friday's practice, meaning he'll likely be a healthy scratch again in Saturday's Game 2 against the Detroit Wings.

"It's frustrating, obviously," Stalberg said. "Can't really make it too much about yourself, it's about winning games right now, and we won. It was a good start to the series, that's what it's about right now."

Stalberg shed a little light on to what his benching's about. While Hawks coach Joel Quenneville wouldn't get into specifics, Stalberg said he was told to be more intense and play harder.

"It's nothing you've never heard before," Stalberg said. "Most guys, when they're not playing, get to hear that. Nothing too different, but he wants me to produce more and be more effective out there. Hopefully I can get back and I'll try to make a difference."

Joel Quenneville refuted multiple reports Wednesday that Viktor Stalberg was benched for Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings because he complained about his lack of a role on the power play during the first-round series against the Minnesota Wild.

A source said Tuesday that Stalberg had been benched for questioning his role after getting only one power play shift during the five-game series.

"That story's 100 percent inaccurate," Quenneville said. "Viktor didn't play, he knows the reasons why. It has nothing to do with anything about our conversation. It was strictly nothing to do with that. At all. That situation wasn't even addressed."

Quenneville still did not elaborate on why Stalberg was benched, pointing out that with Dave Bolland re-entering the lineup after being out with an injury, "Somebody had to come out."

He pointed to some of the tough decisions he's had to make all year, particularly with the rotation of defenseman Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank throughout the regular season, as an example of players sitting despite deserving to play. Stalberg played 47 of 48 games this year, and all five against the Wild.

"This year we had some tough decisions as far as who plays and doesn't plays," Quenneville said. "We had the rotation on our back end with Brooksie and Rozy ... every game one of them had to sit out. It was definitely unfair for those guys, but that's the situation we're in, where we have to make some tough decisions."

Quenneville has been reluctant all season to tinker with his lineup after victories. When asked if Stalberg could be sitting out again for Saturday's Game 2, all he said was, "We'll see."

A look at some of the images shared on social media during Wednesday night's 4-1 win for the Blackhawks over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Mike Babcock In Action.jpgDetroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, whose team has lost seven consecutive games to the Blackhawks, has a skilled team but knows better than to get into a track meet with a Blackhawks team that is equally skilled and has so much speed that Viktor Stalberg is expendable in a big playoff series.

''To me, the big thing for us is they have a real mobile back end and we have to get into that group or they're going to be on offense all the time,'' Babcock said Wednesday after the Red Wings' morning skate at the United Center prior to Game 1. ''If we don't get into that group, it's going to be a track meet up and down the ice. We don't need a track meet. We need a grind fest.

''We have to be very, very good with the puck. Take care of the puck. If we turn the pucks over and don't get through the neutral zone it's going to be a long series for our team.''

The Western Conference semifinals between the Blackhawks and Red Wings will feature two of the best two-way players in the game, as both Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk were named finalists for the Selke Trophy, given to the league's top defensive forward, on Wednesday. Boston's Patrice Bergeron was the other finalist.

For Toews, it was his second nomination in three years. For Datsyuk, a three-time winner of the award, it's his sixth straight nomination.

Toews said individual awards weren't the focus, but that's it's nice all the same.

"It's a good feeling, for sure," Toews said. "For a while, it was [Patrick Kane] and I being mentioned in the hart conversation, and I don't think you get to that point without having great teammates and a great team behind you. The same goes for this. It's definitely an honor and something special. You look at the other two players that have been nominated and it's an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as those two guys. So it's a pretty cool feeling."

The Hawks felt it was an easy choice.

"A lot of things make him special defensively," said Hawks rookie Brandon Saad. "His compete level is amazing. He's a two-way player, that's who he is. He works hard, he's determined, he's always hard on th epuck, he makes simple plays. It's well-deserved."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock said Toews' value goes beyond numbers, and also beyond defense.

"What he does on film is one thing," Babcock said. "That's not what makes him what he is. How tough he is mentally, how [good he is] every day, what a great person he is -- that's what makes him the conscience of this team, the captain that he is. I like him a lot."

Saad has had the privilege to play alongside two of the top two-way players in the world in Toews and Marian Hossa, a supremely gifted defender who again was overlooked in favor of centers. For Saad, who patterns his style after theirs, it's been a perfect situation.

"That's something I want to emulate my game around, I want to be that type of player," Saad said. "Thats' how I've been grown up, and that's what I want to continue to do. So having two role models like that, it's been a great year for me, for my confidence and my learning."

Blackhawks winger Viktor Stalberg wasn't happy with his power play time during the first-round series with the Minnesota Wild. Now he's not playing at all against the Detroit Red Wings.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville declined to go into specifics about why he has benched the speedy third-line right winger for tonight's Game 1. But a source said that Stalberg was at odds with the coaching staff over his role in the first-round series against the Wild. Stalberg had three seconds of power play time in Game 1, 55 seconds in Game 2, and none in the next three games. He averaged 2 minutes, 11 seconds of power play time per game during the season, but had no goals and two assists with the man-advantage in 47 games.

"I had a conversation with him," Quenneville said. "He knows how it stands, what the situation is. We'll leave it at that."

At Wednesday's morning skate, Stalberg was again on the outside of the top four lines. With Dave Bolland back in the lineup at third-line center, Andrew Shaw moved over to Stalberg's spot on the right wing. Daniel Carcillo was skating on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik.

After Tuesday's practice -- the third straight in which Stalberg was in the dreaded white jersey, signifying his spot outside the top four lines -- Stalberg had little to say about his demotion. As for his own play in a five-game series win over the Minnesota Wild, in which Stalberg had one assist and a plus-2 rating, Stalberg simply said, "We won 4-1, right? So that's good."

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said that the team's depth up front makes it a tough lineup to crack, and that someone's always on the outside looking in.

"It doesn't mean we're not conscious of what those guys are doing for this team," Toews said. "It's never an easy thing, but that's what makes us a good team, is we've got some good players that may not be able to play every night."

Quenneville said that Stalberg could still work his way back into the lineup, one way or another, later in the series.

"Absolutely," he said. "Things change in our business quickly, whether it's health or decisions based on play. We'll visit as things go along."

Wings win!.jpgIt's a nice storyline, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville isn't buying into the romantic notion that their Western Conference semifinal playoff series is an opportunity to exorcise a demon or slay the dragon by finally beating the Red Wings in a postseason series.

''No,'' Quenneville said when asked if the Red Wings were a hurdle his team needed to clear. ''Winning the Cup, you have to take on the best comers. I think we had a good chance [against the Red Wings] five years ago -- it's amazing how long ago that was.

''We haven't faced them since then. I don't know if that series was as dominating as 4-1 against us. But I thought it was a good learning curve for us. A young team learning from one of the teams that knows how to win -- defending Cup champs. I think there's an education there from them. But now it's a whole new challenge. Their playoff tested. They know how to play. they know how to compete. They know what's ahead of them.

''But I think we've learned as well. I think we applied it the following year [in winning the Cup in 2010]. So you can't pick and choose who you're going to play in the course of a playoff year. We had some great challenges that year. It was a good test the last three years. I'm not particularly [saying] it's one team against another. We have to make sure whatever hurdle or challenge we have, it's how we prepare ourselves and be respectful for what they can do. Let's take care of our own business.''

That said, this year's Stanley Cup playoffs is evolving into a Tournament of Champions of sorts. The Hawks might have to beat the 2008 champion Red Wings in this round, the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in the conference finals and either the 2011 champion Boston Bruins or 2009 champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals to earn their second Stanley Cup in the past four seasons.

Blackhawks vs. Red Wings (3).jpgThe Blackhawks don't think their recent dominance over the Red Wings -- they've won seven straight games against them -- gives them any kind of edge heading into their Western Conference semifinal series that finally begins Wednesday night at the United Center.

And ''dominance'' might be a bit misleading. The Hawks have won six of the seven games by one goal. Four went into overtime. They won three by shootout. In fact, 10 of the last 12 games between the Hawks and Wings have been decided by one goal (and another was a one-goal game until the final 90 seconds).

''It's a fresh slate. It's a new season. We're starting even and clean,'' coach Joel Quenneville said. ''I think we have to look at it one day at a time and one game at a time. You look at all the games this year, discounting the one game [a 7-1 Hawks rout at Joe Louis Arena], every game was a close game and a tight game where anything could have happened.''

For what it's worth, history still favors the Blackhawks. Since the end of the 2004-05 lockout, only one of 11 teams has had a 3-0-0 or better record against an opponent in the regular season and lost to that team in the playoffs. The only time it happened was in 2008, when the Montreal Canadiens were 4-0-0 in the regular season against the Philadelphia Flyers, but lost 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

For the third straight practice, Viktor Stalberg found himself in a white jersey, skating outside the top four lines. And he wasn't in much of a mood to discuss it.

"I don't really have anything to say about it," he said "Ask Q."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Saturday that both Saad and Stalberg needed to pick up their play. But Saad was in the white jersey for just one day, while Stalberg has yet to be freed from it. Quenneville and Stalberg haven't discussed his status for Wednesday's Game 1 yet.

"Stay ready," Quenneville said was his message to Stalberg. "Nobody said he's out of the lineup. Make decisions tough on us. ... We'll address the situation when the time is right."

Stalberg had one assist and a plus-2 rating in the first round against Minnesota. When asked to assess his own play, he curtly said, "We won 4-1, right? So that's good."

Rockford call-up Ben Smith has been skating with the top four lines in Stalberg's stead the past few practices. He was in Stalberg's spot on the third line on Monday, and skated in Michal Handzus' spot at second-line center Tuesday. Quenneville said Handzus is "fine" and will play in Game 1, so Smith and Stalberg are both up in the air.

Smith had three goals in the Hawks' first-round loss to Vancouver in 2011.

"I'm ready if called upon," Smith said. "It'd be exciting. ... You never know what can happen. I'm always prepared. At some point, hopefully it'll happen and I'll be ready to go."


Blackhawks-Red Wings playoff schedule set

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The NHL released the schedule for the Blackhawks-Red Wings Western Conference semifinal series:

Game 1 -- Wednesday, 7 p.m. at the United Center

Game 2 -- Saturday, noon, at the United Center

Game 3 -- Monday, 6:30 p.m., at Joe Louis Arena

Game 4 -- Thurs., May 23, 7 p.m. at Joe Louis Arena

Game 5 (if necessary) -- Sat., May 25, TBA, at the United Center

Game 6 (if necessary) -- Mon., May 27, TBA, at Joe Louis Arena

Game 7 (if necessary) -- Wed., May 29, TBA, at the United Center

Hawks and Woings.jpgThe Blackhawks expect the next step into the Stanley Cup playoffs to stoke their intensity after a workmanlike effort against the Minnesota Wild in the opening round. That the opponent is the Detroit Red Wings does not hurt matters.

''There's going to be quite a bit [of emotion],'' captain Jonathan Toews said after the Hawks practiced Monday morning at Johnny's Icehouse West. ''It's always been a good rivalry. Especially during the regular season. We haven't seen them in the playoffs for three years. [It's] something a lot of people seemed to talk about during the season, if it's a potential matchup what would happen. And here we are.''

Game 1 will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the United Center. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday, with the time to be determined. The rest of the series schedule will be announced after Monday night's playoff games complete the opening round.

The Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalry will go out with a bang.

The two Original Six franchises and longtime arch-enemies will meet in the Western Conference semifinals this week, following Detroit's Game 7 victory at Anaheim on Sunday night. It will be the last time the Hawks and Wings meet as conference rivals, as Detroit heads to the Eastern Conference next season. Game 1 will be Wednesday at the United Center, followed by Game 2 on Saturday. The rest of the schedule will be released on Monday.

The Hawks swept the season series, winning all four games, and have won seven straight against the Wings dating back to last season. But Detroit won its last four games in the regular season to get into the playoffs, and rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the second-seeded Ducks -- a team that beat the Hawks three times this season.

"They had a big run to get in the playoffs, and you watch them in games, you know how they're intelligent, they know how to win, they know how to play the right way," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "They keep themselves in the play. We know how dangerous they can be."

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford has been sensational against Detroit. In his career, he's 11-2-2 against the Red Wings with a 1.82 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. Those are both career-bests against any team he's faced more than twice.

The Hawks, especially since eliminating the Minnesota Wild in five games, have been paying close attention to the Ducks-Wings series. Following a roller-coaster of a Game 6, in which the Wings blew a 3-1 lead late only to win in overtime, Hawks winger Patrick Sharp praised Detroit.

"That's the Red Wings' type of game," he said. "I've seen them in that situation down 3-1, I've seen them up 3-1. They don't change the way they play, and that's one of the reasons why they've been successful for a long time. They're a team that's pretty resilient. That series has been fun to watch.

Had the Ducks won the series, the Hawks would have faced the San Jose Sharks. Sharp had no preference.

"No, not really," he said. "I dislike both teams equally. So no matter who we play, it's going to be a pretty intense series. Both teams skate well, they're physical, they're well-coached, and it's going to be a battle. Hopefully we can use this time off to heal up, to get focused and play our best hockey."

Blackhawks vs. Wings (2).jpgThe Blackhawks officially had no preference who they faced in the Western Conference semifinals. But Blackhawks fans are getting the team they wanted -- the rival Detroit Red Wings.

Justin Abdelkader scored a shorthanded goal on a breakaway to break a tie game in the first period and Jimmy Howard stopped 31 of 33 shots in goal as the Red Wings beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in Game 7 of their first-round series Sunday night in Anaheim.

That sets up a second-round match between the top-seeded Blackhawks and the seventh-seeded Red Wings, who had to hustle down the stretch -- going 4-0-0 in the final week of the regular season -- to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1989-90 season. Games 1 and 2 will be Wednesday and Saturday at the United Center, according to the Red Wings.

The Blackhawks won the season series with the Red Wings 4-0-0, but three of the games went to overtime.

Dave Bolland will be in the lineup for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. So the question no longer is when, but where?

While Bolland has been out with a groin injury since April 22, Michal Handzus has taken Bolland's second-line center role and ran with it. Bolland could be headed back to his old role on the third line, even if it means breaking up the successful grouping of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg.

"We love tough decisions," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We'll visit with that over the next couple of days. But we look forward to having him in the lineup and looking at other options."

Bolland said it's not up to him where he plays. But after an up-and-down season between Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, he sounded like a guy who's more comfortable in that irritant-agitator checking-line role he played so well in recent seasons.

"I've been successful on the third line," he said. "That's sort of been my thing. This year's been an up-and-down roller coaster for myself. But I think that's in the past and this is now, so I have to concentrate on the playoffs. That's where I've played and that's where I've had most of my success."


Sending a message
Both Brandon Saad and Viktor Stalberg were out of the top four-line rotation for Saturday's practice, wearing the dreaded white jerseys. Stalberg skated on the "fifth line" with Jamal Mayers and Brandon Bollig, while Saad skated with defensemen Ryan Stanton and Sheldon Brookbank.

Saad had just one point in the first round, and Quenneville said after the practice that he wanted him to "keep it simple." Saad said he got the message.

"Even without him saying anything, I know my play wasn't at my best," he said. "I've got to get better each game, each round. ... I'm motivated, for sure. Not playing your best is something you use as motivation, really."


Emery back
Backup goaltender Ray Emery also will be back in Game 1, which will be at the United Center on either Tuesday or Wednesday. He hasn't dressed since aggravating a lower-body injury in Edmonton on April 24.

"I'm just happy to keep getting better and better," he said. "I felt good in there. It's good that we have a few days here to kind of regroup between series and I'm excited to get back, and hopefully I can get back as soon as possible."

Patrick Sharp celebrates.jpgAfter eliminating the Minnesota Wild 4-1 in their Western Conference quarterfinal series with a 5-1 victory in Game 5, the Blackhawks expect the degree of difficulty to rise, perhaps significantly, in the second round. And they're expecting to raise the level of their game as well.

''I think we can play better -- that's something to look at as a positive,'' forward Patrick Kane said when asked if anything from the Minnesota series will carry over to the next round. ''I know [the Wild] had some goaltender problems down the stretch. I still feel we could have played better as a team. That's something we can look at and say, we come away with a 4-1 win and you didn't play your best. You've got to feel good about that.''

Captain Jonathan Toews, who like Kane did not score a goal in the Minnesota series, surely has to be looking forward to being a bigger factor in the next round. He had two assists against the Wild, both in Game 5. But he was more concerned with the team raising its level of play.

''We did a lot of good things this series. We can be happy with that,'' Toews said. ''But we know going forward that it's only going to get tougher, that we have to be better. And we'll just keep stepping up our game and look at the positives from this series and be prepared for whatever's next.''

Hawks-Wings rivalry.jpgStop the presses -- the Hawks have no preference whether they face the Detroit Red Wings or the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference semifinals next week.

''It doesn't matter who it's going to be. [Either way] it's going to be a tough opponent,'' Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. ''We can expect that much and prepare ourselves for the second round.''

The seventh-seeded Red Wings trail the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in their first-round series, with Game 6 tonight at Joe Louis Arena. If the Wings rally to win the series, they will face the Hawks in the second round. If not, the Hawks will face sixth-seeded San Jose, which swept the third-seeded Vancouver Canucks in the first round.

The Blackhawks were 3-0-0 against San Jose, winning 5-3 in San Jose (after falling behind 3-1 in the first period); and 4-1 and 2-1 at the United Center.

The Hawks were 4-0-0 against the Red Wings, with two shootout victories and one in overtime. They won 2-1 in overtime at home; 2-1 in a shootout in Detroit; 3-2 in a shootout at the United Center. And blew out the Red Wings 7-1 at Detroit.


Josh Harding will start in goal for the Minnesota Wild in Game 5 tonight at the United Center. Whether he's really ready to go or not after suffering an injury in Game 4, well, that's anybody's guess.

Wild coach Mike Yeo is going on faith.

"We don't know how he feels," Yeo said after an eventful morning skate. "But you have to trust him. And he says that he's good to go, and there was absolutely no doubt about it, so that's what we were looking for."

Harding, injured in the first period of Game 4 when Jonathan Toews ran into him on a rush, was slow to get up after many saves during the morning skate. Yeo and goaltending coach Bob Mason had lengthy conversations together and with Harding and Niklas Backstrom, who was injured in warmups before Game 1.

"You don't know what we were talking about; might have been talking about what we're having for lunch today," Yeo said with a sly smile. "This is what we've been dealt. We were able to figure it out, now we should be able to push all that stuff behind us. Bottom line is we've got 20 guys going into the lineup. No excuses on our part. You're in the lineup, you're there for a reason, and we've got a group that's capable -- more than capable -- of winning this game tonight."

Shortly after the skate ended, even the Wild players were in the dark.

"Honestly I don't know who's playing tonight," Zach Parise said. "They all give us a chance to win, regardless of who's starting."

Yeo said Darcy Kuemper -- an AHL call-up who replaced Harding for the second and third periods in Game 4 -- will be Harding's backup tonight.

"I don't think it matters," captain Mikko Koivu said. "We have three good goaltenders here and as players you just prepare the game the way you always [do]. I don't think it matters for us players who's between the pipes. Every single night they give us a chance to win the hockey game.:

Patrick Kane on the PP.jpgThe only team with fewer power-play opportunities in this year's playoffs than the Blackhawks is playing golf, watching on TV and preparing for the world championships today.

The Vancouver Canucks had 10 power-play opportunities against the San Jose Sharks and allowed a postseason high 24. Small wonder the Canucks were swept in the first round.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are hoping to close out the Minnesota Wild tonight at the United Center, up 3-1 despite having only 11 power-play opportunities, with one goal. The Hawks' penalty-killing unit has as many goals in the postseason (one) as their power play.

''This series has been tight, it's been tough. We haven't had many power plays,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ''It's only two games in a row, we've only had one. I'm expecting better things as we go along here. I think that the personnel we have on it or had on it [in Game 4] to try and get it going hopefully will springboard to a positive and some production. I don't think it slowed us down in our team game.''

The key is getting more opportunities. But the Wild has been very disciplined in avoiding penalties, apparently.

''It's tough when you get one or one-and-a-half power plays a game. We want to get some more chances,'' Patrick Kane said. ''It seems like when those chances do come it's in the third period when you're playing in a defensive role and don't want to give anything up.''

The Blackhawks had a chance to put their foot on the Minnesota Wild's throat in Game 3 at the Xcel Energy Center and failed, instead getting outplayed in a 3-2 overtime loss and seeing their series lead cut to 2-1.

Now up 3-1 after Tuesday's victory in Game 4, the Hawks are looking for that killer instinct that was missing in a sloppy, dispassionate Game 3 effort.

"I think we'll learn from Game 3 [because] we had the chance to really take control of the series," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We knew exactly what to expect from their team, that the first game in their building was going to be a really good one for them. And to be able to throw that effort back in their face would have been huge for us, showing them that even their best might not be good enough -- and we didn't do that at all. This is a chance to kind of redeem ourselves for the way we played in Game 3. Everyone's saying we haven't played our best game yet in this series. We've got to get as close to that as we can."

The Hawks certainly had a better performance in Game 4, particularly defensively. They cluttered shooting lanes, forced shots wide of Corey Crawford and cleared the rebounds he did give up, and minimized traffic in front of the net. Killing six penalties helped, too. In fact, the Hawks have killed off all 15 Wild power plays this series -- no other team has a spotless PK in the postseason.

"It's one of those things we stress throughout the season, playing good team defense," Patrick Kane said. "Our goaltending's been great, our defense has been great, but I think our forwards have been great defensively, too, whether it's blocking shots or trying to strip pucks and go the other way. As a forward, when you're playing good defense, usually it translates to more offensive opportunities and having the puck more, too. It can go both ways. I think ever since [Joel] Quenneville came in, he's really stressed getting better defensively for myself personally, and for the team, too. It's always been a big part of the game, the team defense."

The big concern continues to be a lackluster power play. The Hawks have just one power play goal in the series in 11 opportunities. Can the Hawks win the Stanley Cup without a strong power play? Kane's not so certain.

"It's something we still want to improve on and feel it can be good because it has been good in past," he said. "I don't know if you can. The last team that really did it was Boston, I know they struggled on the power play. I know the year we won, we had a great power play. It was a big key to our success, scored a lot of big goals. ... I still think we can do it and by the end of the playoffs, hopefully we'll show you guys."

In the meantime, the Hawks are once again expecting Minnesota's best effort, no matter who's in goal for the banged-up Wild. The Hawks have been on the brink of elimination before, so they know what the Wild is feeling. Despite two straight first-round exits, the Hawks were actually 4-2 when facing elimination over those two series.

"You feel like the series is never over until that final buzzer sounds," Patrick Sharp said. "We expect Minnesota to come in and play their best game of the series here in Game 5. They're a well-coached team, they've got some hard-working players over there. They've got a lot of character. So they're going through a few injuries like everyone does this time of year, but no question they're going to show up and play hard tomorrow."

Zach Parise denied .jpgThe Minnesota Wild was a team searching for answers Tuesday night.

It's bad enough that the Wild is down 3-1 against the best team in the NHL after a 3-0 loss to the Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center. Now they face not only the daunting task of survival in Game 5 at the United Center on Thursday night, but the perplexing reality that they were beaten at their own game.

Instead of responding to a Game 3 pounding by pounding back (the Wild outhit the Hawks 20-10), the Blackhawks mucked it up, blocking 26 Wild shots in front of Corey Crawford to shut out the Wild on six power plays and render the already struggling Wild offense impotent.

''It looks like we had a lot of time. It looks like we had a lot of room. But they did a good job of getting in the shooting lanes,'' lamented Wild star Zach Parise, who has one goal in the series and is a minus-6 through four games after a minus-2 on Tuesday night.

How do you solve that strategy?

''That's what we'll find out,'' Parise said.

Maybe they will and maybe they won't. While the Wild players figure to respond with a stellar effort in a desperation situation, by now it's got to be in the back of their heads that the Blackhawks have several trump cards still left to play. When you're down 3-1 and Jonathan Toews (zero points) hasn't even cleared his throat, it can always get worse.

Daniel Carcillo In Action.jpgDaniel Carcillo can't wait for his chance.

''That's the reason we play, is to play in big games like this,'' the Blackhawks winger said. ''This is my type of hockey. Everybody wants to play. You don't want to be sitting and watching. It would mean a lot to get a chance.''

After the Blackhawks took a beating in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Minnesota Wild, coach Joel Quenneville contemplated turning to the energetic Carcillo, a noted agitator, to help turn up the intensity of his team's effort. Carcillo was a healthy scratch in the first two games of the series.

''He's one of those guys that brings energy to your team, and enthusiasm,'' Quenneville said. ''You want to make sure you're smart in how you approach games, but I think he's gotta play the way that makes him successful and that's playing hard and bringing that unpredictability.''

You've seen Joel Quenneville angry. You've seen him on the bench ranting at the refs after a call doesn't go the Blackhawks' way, or roaring at his players after a particularly lackluster effort. You've seen the arms flailing, the eyes flashing, the voice straining.

The Hawks have seen it, too. Plenty of times. That's what coaches do -- they yell, they scream, they convey their message as forcefully as they can.

But Quenneville didn't scream after the Hawks' lost Game 3 on Sunday to a Minnesota Wild team that showed superior effort, hustle and desperation from start to finish. And he didn't yell throughout Monday's practice, either. Instead, he calmly pointed out areas that needed improvement -- dispassionate play and sloppy play go hand in hand -- and sent his players out to work on those things.

That's how the Hawks knew he was really serious.

"He stated some points that we need to work on to get this team better if we want to move on, and we listened," Bryan Bickell said. "When he screams and yells, sometimes it's the same stuff. But when he starts talking like a normal human being, everybody gets their ears open and listens. He's our leader, and he keeps us together to make us the best."

So while Game 3 understandably sent the Twin Cities into a tizzy -- think Bulls fans after Game 1 against the Miami Heat -- the loss hardly sent waves of panic through the Hawks dressing room. If anything, it served as a wake-up call after a relatively pressure-free home stretch of the season, and an opportunity to learn lessons that could prove helpful down the road should the Hawks stave off the Wild and make a deep playoff run.

So the 51 hours between Jason Zucker's overtime goal in Game 3 and the drop of the puck for Tuesday night's Game 4 were, for the Hawks and for Quenneville, a time to reflect, reassess, and respond.

"We never talk about the games right after, we let it sink in for a day," Viktor Stalberg said. "[Quenneville] wasn't really happy [during Monday's practice]. I don't think we played very well. We didn't compete at the same level. They deserved to win that game and we got lucky to stay in it as far as we did. We've got to be better, we've got to be better in front of [Corey Crawford[, we've got to play harder and we've got to start getting into this series like it's the playoffs. I don't think we've been playing that desperate. Maybe the second game went a little too easy for us. I don't think we expected it to be easy, but for some reason we came out a little flat in the third game here. We've got to get better. And that's what Joel told us."

Said Quenneville: "Sometimes there's more technical things you want to change and adjust to, and sometimes you want to make sure the motivation factor [and] the compete level is in order."

Sure enough, Monday's practice had more life to it, more intensity, than perhaps any Hawks practice since the start of the season. And the Hawks expect

There won't be anything drastic. No big line shakeup -- Quenneville fired up the line blender for the third period of Game 3, but will stick with his usual combinations for overtime and Game 4 -- other than probably swapping in Daniel Carcillo for Brandon Bollig. No fundamental shifts in philosophy -- more hitting, sure, but not at the expense of the Hawks' puck-possession, fast-paced style.

It was only one loss, after all. Nobody expected the Hawks to go 16-0 and cakewalk their way to the Stanley Cup.

But Quenneville made his point. The effort in Game 3 wasn't good enough. And it won't be tolerated again.

"Just to bring that playoff style of hockey," Jonathan Toews said of the new mission. "You watch the other series and you see how tough it is on every single play, every single shift, and little puck battles everywhere. Nothing is taken for granted. So we've got to have that some work ethic, that same hatred for that team that they had for us last game."

Duncan Keith.jpgBlackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith returned to Chicago early Tuesday morning to witness the birth of his son, but will be back in Minnesota in time for Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

''I didn't know about that, so that's good news for us,'' captain Jonathan Toews said, when told Keith would be back in time for the game. ''It's nice for him to get that off his mind for the day. He'll probably be playing pretty loose tonight.''

Keith has been an iron man for the Hawks since joining the team in 2005. He has missed just 16 games in eight seasons, only nine because of injury. When he lost seven teeth after getting hit in the mouth with a puck in the second period of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against San Jose in 2010, he missed a few shifts and played more than 12 minutes of the third period to help the Hawks win.

When Keith left this the team early this morning there was a chance he would miss Game 4. He probably will be one of the few who truly appreciates the 8:30 p.m. start.

''Family comes first in situations like that,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ''We want him to be there for his first child's birth In this situation, it's an easy decision. We're very happy he was there in time and that it all worked out.

''It's an exciting day for the Keiths. We're encouraged that he'll be here today. So that's good news all the way around.''

Rookie forward Brandon Saad, just 20, was among many teammates wishing the Keiths well. But he also was happy to hear Keith will play tonight.

''It's pretty crazy thinking how young I am, seeing someone having kids,'' Saad said. ''It's an exciting moment for him, but we're looking forward to having him back for tonight. All the best to him.''

Momentum is on the Wild's side after their Game 3 victory, but the players were being careful not to get carried away.

"We all came to the rink today the same way that we did after Game 1 and Game 2," goalie Josh Harding said. "This is going to be a long series, and we're just trying to get better every day. I know it's getting repetitive, but you have to treat each day as a new day, and that's what we're doing today."

Even 21-year-old Jason Zucker, who scored the overtime winner in Game 3, had put his heroics behind him -- after leaping into the glass and fielding some celebratory texts and calls, of course.

"You've got to move on right away," Zucker said. "Obviously, it was good to get that win, but [it doesn't] matter now. We're just moving on."

Veteran forward Devin Setoguchi was glad to see Zucker and the rest of his teammates focused on the task at hand -- Game 4 -- rather than reflecting on the franchise's first playoff victory in five years.

"After the game's over, the game's over," Setoguchi said. "You show up the next day and it's the same thing. You can't dwell on the past, you can't dwell on the day before. You lose the game in Chicago, you come home, you can't just sit there and whine and sulk about it. You don't have time for that. We've done a good job as far as [realizing] the game's over -- come in today, refocus and get what we need and be ready to go tomorrow."

Brandon Saad In Action.jpgBlackhawks forward Brandon Saad was named a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy, honoring the NHL's top rookie. Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher and Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau are the other finalists.

Playing mostly on the Hawks' top line with Jonathan Toews and Marina Hass, the 20-year-old Saad scored 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 46 games during the regular season. He led all NHL rookies in plus/minus with a plus-17.

Teammate Patrick Kane, who won the Calder Trophy in 2008, said Saad would be a deserving winner.

''He had a great season. He was awesome from the first game he came in,'' Kane said. ''He's a big guy. He's fast. I think he complements Hossa and Toews very well on the top line. They've had a lot of success this year and he's been a big part of it.

''Hopefully he gets that honor to win it. I think he's had a great season. It would have been fun to see what he could do over 82 games, but he's had a good season nonetheless.''

Jonathan Toews vs. Wild (2).jpgThe Blackhawks volunteered just three players for interviews after their 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center -- a subtle sign of a sore loser.

But when Jonathan Toews is one of the three, it's often more than enough in these situations. We could have asked for Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa or Michael Rozsival to explain how the Hawks were beat up by the Wild with nary a response. But nobody did. We didn't have to.

While even coach Joel Quenneville was noticeably curt in his post-game interview (Asked how the Hawks could improve their power play, his response was as succinct as it could be: "Shoot."), Toews typically was soft-spoken, resolute and spot-on, especially when it came to the obvious storyline of the game -- the Wild's pummeling of the Blackhawks with impunity. It was 34-13 on paper, but much worse in reality.

''It's part of the game. It's something we can do, too,'' Toews said. ''It's not the only part of the game that we didn't take control of. Maybe they outhit us on paper, but there are a lot of other things that we didn't do right that we're going to have to get going if we want to win a game like this.''

Patrick Kane wins the cup.jpgThe Minnesota Wild will have a home crowd at a fever pitch on their side in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series Sunday at Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks will counter with the only advantage they have in situations like this -- they're the best road team in the NHL.

The Wild was 14-8-2 at home this season. The Blackhawks' 18-4-2 road record was, not surprisingly, the best in the NHL this season. But even outside of their stellar 2012-13 regular season, they have a number of players who notably perform well on the road -- starting with Jonathan Toews but including Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane.

Kane led the NHL in road scoring with 30 points this season (the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin was second with 29). The automatonic Toews led the NHL in plus/minus on the road with a plus-21. He was a plus-7 at home --for what it's worth, no player in the league had a road-heavy disparity even close to that. (the Penguins' Pacal Dupuis, the former Wild forward who led the NHL with a plus-31 this season, was plus-17 on the road and plus-14 at home).

Mike Yeo.jpgThis series has been too nice. And Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo has noticed.

Trailing 2-0 in their Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Blackhawks, Yeo intimated the Wild have to increase the level of ''hatred'' for their opponent.

''We have a lot of guys, they're getting their first taste of playoff hockey and some guys who haven't been a part of it for awhile,'' Yeo said prior to Game 3 on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center. ''There's no question that. I really believe that to be successful there has to be a level of hatred for the team you're playing against.

''It shouldn't be hard for us. They're trying to take away something from us. Obviously they're a good team. The fact that we've played them a couple of times and have [lost], there should certainly be some hostility coming into this game tonight.''

Patrick Kane got the puck in the slot and tried to get off a quick shot, only to have his stick lifted by a Wild defenseman. With four Minnesota players zeroing in on him, and Wild goalie Josh Harding focused on him, Kane quickly spun to his right and fired a perfect pass to Patrick Sharp, left all alone in the corner. Sharp easily smacked the puck into the gaping net. That goal all but sealed the Blackhawks' Game 2 victory, and was the quintessential Kane.

mullet.jpg"He loves making that pass," Sharp said.

He didn't always, though. Kane said Saturday that when he was a kid, 11 or 12, he rarely passed the puck, instead preferring to take the puck down the ice and try to finish it off himself.

"I finally ran into a coach that said you're going to have to pass the puck or you're going to sit on the bench," Kane said. "I remember I went down the full length of the ice, scored a goal, and I sat on the bench for the rest of the period. From that moment on, I just tried to improve my vision and my passing ability, and that's probably where it came from. A lot of practice, too."

Kane's playmaking ability has always been otherworldly, but it's reached new levels this season -- from his seeing-eye passes to his spin-o-rama goal in Detroit to his incredible stickhandling in shootouts.

"He's got the hands to stick-handle his way out of a phone booth," Bryan Bickell said. "He pulls things I can only dream about in games. I try to do them in practice, but usually I just embarrass myself."

And while the Hawks talked a lot about getting ugly goals against the defenisve-minded Wild, Kane wasn't shy about admitting he prefers being a bit of a showman out there -- both as a scorer and a passer.

"As players, you always want to show your skill and your ability to create," he said. "I think that's what the fans like, they like pretty plays like that. Sometimes it's nice to do those things."

NOTEWORTHY: Center Dave Bolland (groin) and goaltender Ray Emery (lower-body) were both ruled out for Game 3 by coach Joel Quenneville, though they did make the trip to Minnesota.

By Blackhawks standards, Game 1 against the Minnesota Wild was a surprisingly physical affair, with Bryan Bickell's demolition of Zenon Konopka a highlight. By Stanley Cup playoff standards, though, it was downright cordial.

As the season goes along, though, that likely will change.

"Yeah, sooner or later," Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said. "Every playoff series I've been in there's been some kind of bad blood that usually comes out later in the series. You didn't see too much of it in Game 1. But there was some checks finished and words being said. I think that boils over as we go along."

Much of the talk before Friday's Game 2 was about Thursday night's game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens, in which Ottawa's Eric Gryba sent Montreal's Lars Eller off on a stretcher with a high, open-ice hit. Gryba was suspended two games on Friday. Both Jonathan Toews and Sharp thought it was a clean hit, but it was a reminder of what's happened to the Hawks in recent postseasons, including Raffi Torres' concussive hit on Marian Hossa last season.

"We saw it last year in our games, first-hand," Joel Quenneville said. "It's all part of hockey. The speed, the size, and split decisions or timing -- those are the things that can happen."

Wild coach Mike Yeo agreed with Sharp that the intensity and emotion of the series will only go up as the games go on, but expected both teams to keep things legal.

"I know our guys are emotionally engaged in this and I think that it will increase as the series goes on," Yeo said. "I'm not comparing us to any of the other series that's going on, but I know where our emotions are at. We need to keep them in check, but I expect them to increase as the series goes on."

Toews said players have to look out for themselves, particularly in the postseason.

"It's a fast game, you've got to keep your head up and make sure you don't put yourself in vulnerable positions like that," he said. "I'm sure there's a few mistakes on both sides. You've got to be conscious, but I don't think you should be worried. Whenever you let up and don't keep playing your normal game, that's when accidents like that can happen."

Josh Harding will start in goal again for the Minnesota Wild in tonight's Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. And this time, Harding has had plenty of time to think about it.

Pressed into service just 15 minutes before Game 1 when starter Niklas Backstrom suffered a lower-body injury in warmups, Harding was stellar for the Wild, making 35 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss. Harding has been preparing for the last two days as the expected starter in Game 2, and Wild coach Mike Yeo expects him to carry the confidence from Game 1 into tonight's game.

"I'd sure like to hope so," Yeo said. "For him, there was a lot of positives to take out of the game. And as much as anything else, it's the confidence of going out and playing well in a game like that, but also for a guy who's missed a lot of hockey -- it's not like he hasn't played good hockey before, he's played good hockey -- and hopefully it's kind of a statement to himself that, 'I'm getting my game.'"

Backstrom actually flew to Chicago Thursday night on his own, not on the team charter. Yeo said that was the plan all along, but didn't say why. Backstrom was on the ice at Friday's morning skate, but was sharing a net with call-up Darcy Kuemper.

Yeo said he hasn't talked much with Harding to gauge his mental state after being thrust into the spotlight so suddenly.

"I try not to talk too much to the goalies," Yeo said. "[Goalie coach] Bob Mason's got a great relationship with those guys. ... It should be just like any other gameday for him. And I haven't felt i needed to [talk to him]. He looks poised and focused and confident. Certainly there's butterflies, I'm sure, and I'm sure their goalie's feeling the same thing."

As for the Hawks, they didn't seem too concerned with which Wild goalie was playing. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said the only scouting report that mattered was that Harding's a lefty and Backstrom's a righty.

"As a player, as a shooter, I don't really care who's in net," Patrick Sharp said. "Both those guys are quality goalies who are going to make saves if they see the puck. The game plan for guys like us is always the same -- get to the net, and try to bang one home."

Yeo agreed.

"I don't think they're going to change their game or try to shoot at different locations at the net," he said. "They're going to try to shoot pucks as quickly and frequently as possible and try to get bodies to the net as many times as they can. And that's pretty much the same game plan we have."

NOTEWORTHY: Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner, who was injured by an Andrew Shaw hit early in Game 1, is out tonight, too. So is forward Jason Pominville (concussion). Hawks goalie Ray Emery and center Dave Bolland were ruled out for Game 2 on Thursday by Quenneville, but both could make the trip to Minnesota for Sunday's Game 3 and Tuesday's Game 4.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been saying all season that he feels all four of his lines can compete against anyone's top line on either end of the ice. And he showed that in Game 1 by rarely exploiting the home team's advantage of having the last line change after a stoppage. All four lines -- from Jonathan Toews' top line to Marcus Kruger's fourth line -- saw action against the Wild's top line of Mikko Koivu between Zack Parise and Charlie Coyle.

"Seems like Q didn't match as much," Marian Hossa said. "Seems like he put all four lines against their top players, so that's how much confidence he's got in this team."

Wild coach Mike Yeo, meanwhile, had star defenseman Ryan Suter on the ice for a franchise-record 41 minutes, nearly every time Toews' line or Patrick Kane's line was out there.

"He was always out there," Hossa said. "Seems like it's going to be like that and we have to find a way to go around him, and try to make those minutes feel longer for him."


Fast start wanted

The Wild have nine players participating in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time, but the Hawks looked like the team with a little stage fright Tuesday. They're hoping they can return to their regular-season groove Friday.

''We want to make sure we start quicker,'' coach Joel Quenneville said. ''We want to play a faster game. We got better as the game progressed, but we want to make sure we're at the same pace at the start as at the finish.''


Block party
The Wild blocked a whopping 21 shots in Game 1, including a combined 10 against Hossa and Patrick Kane. Quenneville said that's an area in which the Hawks can improve for Game 2.

"They blocked a lot of shots and I think we can be more efficient in that area as a team," he said. "You don't always have to look for the perfect shot, maybe second and third opportunities will be better for us all."


Injury update
Quenneville ruled out both Dave Bolland (groin) and Ray Emery (lower body) for Game 2. Emery briefly took the ice on Thursday, however, and Quenneville said both are "likely" to travel to Minnesota for Games 3 and 4.

For the Wild, forward Jason Pominville (concussion) is out for Game 2, while goaltender Niklas Backstrom (lower body) and defenseman Clayton Stoner (hurt by an Andrew Shaw hit in the first period go Game 1) also missed Thursday's practice. Backstrom and Stoner both were expected to make the trip to Chicago for Game 2, though.

Henrik Karlsson In Action.jpgWhen MInnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom suffered an injury during pre-game warmups and couldn't play Tuesday night, Wild fans at least knew who Josh Harding was. But if Corey Crawford suffered a similar malady prior to Game 2 tonight, even longtime Blackhawks fans would have to google Henrik Karlsson.

With Ray Emery still recovering from a groin injury, Karlsson remains the Blackhawks' Plan B. The 29-year-old Swede has played in 26 NHL games -- all of them as a backup to Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames, with a 5-9-8 record. He was acquired from the Flames on Feb. 21 and played 18 games with the minor-league Rockford Ice Hogs, where he was 11-5-0.

Susannah Collins 4.jpgComcast SportsNet Chicago reporter/anchor Susannah Collins made an accidental name for herself Tuesday with a Freudian Slip that quickly went viral.

By Thursday night, the Downers Grove native and University of Illinois graduate was off the air and out of a job, though Comcast said the move had nothing to do with her "tremendous amount of sex" slipup, according to a statement from management:

"Due to circumstances unrelated to her on-air remarks Tuesday night, Susannah Collins and Comcast SportsNet Chicago have parted ways. We appreciate everything Susannah has contributed to our network over the past year and wish her the best in her future endeavors."

Collins was hired in 2012 and replaced Sarah Kustok when she left for the YES Network.

Here's a look at how the story unfolded and the social media backlash:

hawksfans2.JPG


The Blackhawks led the NHL in points this past season. Now, they're moving closer to the top in ticket prices, too.

Season tickets will go up an average of 16 percent for the 2013-14 season, with every ticket in the United Center becoming more expensive. The most expensive seats on the glass will rise from $335 per game to $380 per game, while the cheapest 300-level seats will rise from $28 to $36.

On top of that, season-ticket holders will only be paying for 40 regular-season games, as the Stadium Series game to be played against the Penguins on March 1 at Soldier Field isn't included. Season-ticket holders will be guaranteed seats to that game if they want to purchase them separately.

Partial plans and single-game tickets also will rise, but those prices haven't been set yet. The team usually waits for the schedule to come out in July before setting those prices.

The Hawks were the 11th-most expensive season-ticket in the NHL this season, according to Chris Werner, vice president of ticket operations.

"But as recently as 2007-08, we ranked 29th," he said. "It's a major market team, and ownership and management have really updated so many things about this franchise. When you start at 29th several seasons ago, we're trying to get the price point to what is appropriate for a major market team."

Werner said the NHL lockout, which wiped out the entire preseason and 34 regular-season games, was not the impetus for increase.

Werner pointed out that season tickets are still on average 42 percent cheaper than single-game tickets, and that the fans in the 300 level save more than anyone else compared with other season-ticket holders. And with the wait list having just cracked 12,000, the Hawks won't have any trouble replacing any disgruntled fans who give up their tickets in the face of the price hike.

"The waiting list is not something that is driving any consideration of price," Werner said. "We just want to be sensitive to what the appropriate price is for a team in this market, delivering the product on and off the ice that we're delivering."


Here's the complete list of price increases for the Hawks' eight price points:

Glass seats: Was $335, now $380
100 level: Was $147, now $169
100 level: Was $110, now $127
Lexus Club level: Was $95, now $115
Lexus Club level: Was $82, now $98
300 level: Was $64, now $74
300 level: Was $48, now $56
300 level: Was $28, now $36

Toews vs. Wild 2013.jpgThe Blackhawks might be good enough to finesse their way through their first-round playoff series. But they're not taking any chances this time.

With Andrew Shaw capping things with a big hit on Torrey Mitchell that sparked the winning rally, the Hawks outhit the Minnesota Wild 40-36 in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series Tuesday night at the United Center.

With their big edges in speed and playmaking, the Blackhawks have never been eager to muck it up with physical teams trying to dilute their potent offense. Only three times in 18 games over the previous three seasons have the Hawks outhit an opponent.

And every time it's been out of necessity: Game 2 against Nashville in 2010 (32-28) after the Hawks were upset at home in the opener; Game 4 against Vancouver in 2011 (44-33) when the Hawks were down 3-0 and were desperate to survive; and Game 3 against Phoenix last season (41-39) when Raffi Torres knocked out Marian Hossa.

Regardless of who's in net for the Minnesota Wild on Friday night for Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals at the United Center, don't expect to see the high-flying, high-scoring, highlight-reel Hawks that led the conference in scoring this season.

The Wild simply don't allow for it.

"Doesn't have to be pretty," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday, following Tuesday night's 2-1 overtime victory. "If we want to play a pretty game in that type of traffic, it's going to lead to them having success. So I think we've got to play an uglier game and more of a faster game."

Minnesota plays a defensive style to begin with, but after veteran starter Niklas Backstrom hurt himself during warmups, the Wild collapsed even more in their own zone, protecting backup goalie Josh Harding by clogging up skating and shooting lanes, and diving in front of pucks left and right -- blocking 21 shots in all.

Backstrom is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, according to Wild coach Mike Yeo, and his status for Game 2 is uncertain. But no matter who's in net, the Hawks fully expect a series of 1-0 and 2-1 games.

"That has a lot to do with their coaching staff over there, and the way they play the game," Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said. "They're well-disciplined, good in all areas. And chalk it up to playoff hockey. There's not going to be too many easy games, or easy opportunities out there to score. We feel comfortable playing that style of game. It suits us. We've proven we can be successful playing that way. So we know what we're in for."

Sharp also attributed the Hawks' shaky start on Tuesday night to first-game jitters, despite the veteran roster.

"I think for Game 1 we were ready," he said. "Emotionally, we were fired up. Perhaps a little too much. I think you can put part of that on the nerves and the excitement of being in the playoffs again. You can also give Minnesota credit for playing a good first period. But we worked hard to get home-ice advantage, and we want to make sure we keep our crowd into it and make sure they give us energy throughout the game. Starting fast in Game 2 is important."

On the injury front, Quenneville hoped that Dave Bolland (groin) and Ray Emery (lower body) would be back on the ice for Thursday's practice (the Hawks didn't practice on Wednesday). But it's unlikely that either will be ready for Game 2.

Blackhawks

About the blogger

Mark Lazerus was honored nationally by the Associated Press Sports Editors for three straight years at the Post-Tribune, was named one of the top three columnists in Indiana for three straight years and has won more than 20 statewide writing awards. He has covered Notre Dame for Sun-Times Media, and now covers the Blackhawks.

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