Chicago Blackhawks: Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO -- It took a few days but the Chicago Blackhawks came out of hibernation to take some batting practice at Wrigley Field after their crushing Game 7 overtime defeat to the Los Angeles Kings last Sunday in the Western Conference Finals.
Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell, Michael Handzus and Sheldon Brookbank shagged fly balls during batting practice and took some swings themselves before the Cubs played the Miami Marlins on Friday.
"Hit a couple to the warning track," Sharp said. "Thought I could hit one out, wind must be blowing in."
The Hawks know they've raised the bar in the city -- something the Cubs are trying to do -- and getting to a conference final is no longer good enough. They're fine with those kinds of high expectations. Now they just have to keep meeting them.
"Mentally you're pretty down," Bickell said. "You want to go to the finals and win the Cup again."
Initially Sharp wasn't sure if he'd watch the finals between the Kings and New York Rangers, but he didn't miss Game 1 on Wednesday.
"It was tough to watch," he said. "It's painful to watch, but I love the game and I'll be watching for sure."
Sharp reiterated his intention to keep quiet about any injuries.
"I said at the end of the season everyone has something going on at this time of year," he said. "To bring that kind of stuff up sounds like I'm making excuses."
So for now the Hawks will lick their wounds coming off a long season, but they vow to return and finish business as they did in 2010 and 2013.
"For the team we had, we were expecting to win this year," Bickell said. "We just fell short against those Kings."
“We didn’t like that he got hit, just like they wouldn’t like it if Sidney [Crosby] got hit,” Kris Versteeg said after the game. “Jonny is a battler. Hopefully he comes back sooner than later.
That’s about as strong an opinion as any Hawks player would offer.
And Versteeg is right. It deserves a closer look, which the league will undoubtedly do on Monday.
Orpik did make contact with Toews’ head, but only after making contact with his shoulder -- hence Toews holding his arm leaving the ice.
Rule 48.1 states: “A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.”
First off, Toews’ head wasn’t the principle point of contact. Orpik also left the ice but, again, it came after the contact of the hit. If the hit causes Orpik to fly into the air, that’s not illegal. If Orpik left the ice before he hit on Toews, that would be against the rules.
“I thought it was clean, but I haven’t seen it again,” Penguins coach Dan Byslma said.
Blackhawks Joel Quenneville needed to see it again, as well.
That tells you it’s not so cut and dry.
Slow motion replays are needed on this one and even though there are moments where it looks like Orpik is breaking the rules -- whether it be head contact or leaving the ice -- there probably isn’t enough to convict.
It shouldn’t be a surprise if Orpik isn’t disciplined. The officials on the ice declared no penalty and the league might just do the same.
PITTSBURGH -- A collective sigh of relief could be heard all the way from Chicago when Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville declared that the injury to Jonathan Toews in the Hawks' 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday wasn’t serious.
But that doesn’t mean the situation with his team isn’t.
Toews is day-to-day, according to Quenneville, with what appeared to be a left arm injury. He’ll be re-evaluated on Monday.
The Hawks dropped their third straight game and, with the potential of playing without Toews for even a little while, they could be headed for more down days just as the playoffs approach.
“It’s been a bit of a rough one,” Kris Versteeg said after the game. “We’re just going to have to find ways to create offense.”
If Toews plays in the next game against the Minnesota Wild at home on Thursday, the Hawks have a fighting chance. Even with him they’ve scored just 11 goals in the past six games since Patrick Kane was injured.
“Whenever you lose players, someone has to step up and take the spot,” Patrick Sharp said. “In the case of those two guys, it’s tough to replace them.”
Sharp went on to say there’s always a next guy ready to do so, but it won’t be a player with the skill or grit of Toews.
Quenneville is trying to see the positive in a short-term Toews injury.
“This time of the year we want to make sure he gets better and fresh; whether he gets a break or not we’ll see,” Quenneville said.
That’s looking at the glass half full, but maybe that is Quenneville’s subtle way of saying he’s not worried about seedings or even home-ice advantage. Currently the Hawks don’t have it anyway. They’ve already clinched a playoff spot but are in a dogfight for home ice. They could play every playoff game at home, but if it’s without Toews and Kane they can forget about repeating as champions.
“Of course it would be a huge loss,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said of losing Toews. “This road trip has been a little bit of a wake-up call.”
Ah, the proverbial late-season wake-up call. If losing their third straight didn’t wake them up, maybe losing their captain will. The Hawks actually played better after he left the game -- but still lost.
“We played some good teams and they beat us,” Sharp said. “If that’s a wake-up call, that’s good. We can wake up and play better down the stretch.”
It would be a whole lot easier with their captain.
PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Blackhawks dropped a 4-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins, losing their third game in a row.
How it happened: Pittsburgh scored two goals in the span of 21 seconds in the first period and never looked back. Brent Seabrook was knocked down at the Penguins blue line, causing an odd-man situation, on which James Neal eventually finished. That was quickly followed by Lee Stempniak’s ability to get behind the defense for another score. The Hawks finally got on the board midway through the second period after some nice passing in the offensive zone. Sheldon Brookbank scored from the point with Andrew Shaw providing a screen. But two Sidney Crosby goals, including an empty-netter in the third period, ended what was a close game to that point.
Toews hurt: Jonathan Toews left the game in the second period after getting hit by defenseman Brooks Orpik. Toews was seen holding his left arm and immediately went to the locker room. But after the game Joel Quenneville said he thought the injury wasn’t serious. There was no call made on the play, which could be interpreted as a high hit.
What it means: It all depends on how long Toews is out. The Hawks already are struggling to score goals and morale would undoubtedly sink even lower if the team’s captain was out of the lineup for an extended period of time. They already are missing Patrick Kane. The Hawks have clinched a playoff berth, so getting healthy might be the most important goal with such a short time remaining in the regular season. They get a break by not playing until Thursday; it gives Toews a chance to be re-evaluated without the pressure of trying to play in a game right away.
What’s next: The Hawks are off until Thursday, when they take on the Minnesota Wild at home still looking to reach 100 points. They’re stuck on 99.
“It was pretty cool,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after the Cubs 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “You respect what those guys did. They accomplished a lot.”
Quenneville talked with Cubs manager Dale Sveum in his office before the game, then took the Cup out to the pitcher’s mound while he threw out the first pitch. Then, he placed it on home plate for a few minutes.
“It was pretty special,” Sveum said. “Just to touch the Cup is pretty special. To actually be next to it and take pictures with it is pretty special. The guys can understand, it’s such a special trophy. It’s one of a kind, and the tradition behind that Cup is off the charts.”
At least one Cub wouldn't touch the Cup, fearing a superstition which states no one that hasn't won it should touch it.
"Nope, I didnt touch it," pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. "I respect hockey players and their traditions."
"In 2010, you guys waited 49 years to do this," forward Patrick Sharp said at a rally on Friday to celebrate this year's title. "This year, we waited three years -- what do you say we get back here and do it again next year?"
No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. That Wings team also won it all in 2002. That's what the Hawks have their sights set on.
"We have some young players here with pretty impressive résumés at a young age," Joel Quenneville said recently. "And they're competitive and they want to do well and want to win. That's a good thing."
Bryan Bickell's goal tied the game at 2-2 with 1:16 remaining, and, while many fans were still celebrating that goal, Dave Bolland beat Tuukka Rask for a shocking 3-2 lead with 59 seconds remaining.
From management to coaches to players to fans alike, everyone had a different perspective on the moments that secured the Hawks their second Stanley Cup championship in four years:
Jonathan Toews: I remember saying to [Patrick] Kane and [Bryan Bickell] on the bench with like two minutes left, I just had a feeling we were going score. Sure enough, Bicks puts one home. I don't know how to explain it. Seventeen seconds later and Bolly [Dave Bolland] puts one home. You look up at the clock and there's 58 seconds left and you're like, "OK, well, we have to kill that off somehow." As crazy as those 17 seconds were, you never know, they could come right back and get a lucky one on you, too. I remember just tripping down the ice trying to get the puck in their empty net. I ended up just shoveling it down; I saw the time on the clock at the end and saw there was only three seconds left. That's when I couldn't believe, just the turn of events, and it was over and the Cup was ours.
Joel Quenneville: Amazing. Didn't see that one coming. We watched it on the plane. It was such an amazing two minutes. A lot of things went right. You heard Kane talk about the quality of the ice. We had to think we had to get ugly goals to be effective.
Bickell: Just a good battle in the corner, and I took a big loop then I found open ice and Tazer [Toews] slid it through [Zdeno] Chara's feet. And I hammered it. I didn't really pick a spot. I knew if I hit it hard enough hopefully it would go through the goal, and I was happy it went in. Seventeen seconds later to do what we did was crazy.
Bolland: I still can't believe it. It's always a kid's dream to score that goal. I did it. It's big. I think I'll ride with it right now.
Daniel Carcillo (healthy scratch): We were in the room. We tied it up, so we were all celebrating. We had no idea what happened. We look back at the television, and we're up one and we're all scrambling to get ready to get back on the ice. It happened pretty quickly, but a pretty cool experience.
Hawks media relations manager Brandon Faber: I didn't watch the last 10 minutes of the game because I was too nervous. I was alone in a room. I could hear healthy scratch guys. I heard them cheer, and that's when I ran in there. Then I went back to the other room. Nobody in there, and we scored again.
Patrick Sharp: When we scored, my first thought was "Yeah, maybe we have a chance to win this again in overtime." And I was joking with Kane telling him how jealous of him I was in 2010. When Bicks scored to tie it up, I thought this was my chance to get him back and score one in overtime and steal it from him. But Bolly beat me to it. Couldn't be happier to see Bolly score there. I thought it was funny that he dropped the gloves, just pure excitement. He didn't know what to do -- none of us knew what to do.
Bolland: I couldn't get my glove out [from Johnny Boychuk], so I ripped my glove off and celebrated.
Bickell: We were still celebrating on the bench [my goal]. "OK, we're tied up we're going to OT." I looked up at the JumboTron. I saw it hit the post and then Bolly. Kind of surreal, that just really happened. We started celebrating again.
One of those changes could see Bolland and his $3.375 million contract on the move. Bolland scored a rebound goal with 59 seconds remaining of Monday's Game 6, giving the Hawks a 3-2 advantage and an eventual second championship in four years.
"(I) would love to be back here next year but whatever happens, happens," Bolland said in response to the rumors. "This is the NHL and trades happen, but I would love to be back here. I love Chicago."
Game 6 Report Card: Chicago Blackhawks 3, Boston Bruins 2
This grade went from a C to an A in a matter of 17 seconds as the Hawks never let up although they trailed twice on the night. They couldn't score on the power play in the game -- or the series -- but when Corey Crawford was pulled for an extra attacker they got the job done 6-on-5. Bryan Bickell finished his scoring chance as did Dave Bolland moments later. The Hawks offense got better as the game went along but things didn't materialize until very late, with the goals coming just in the nick of time.
Boston came hard to start the game as the Hawks couldn't get out of their own end but things began to even out in the second half of the contest. Boston only had 13 shots on net in the final 40 minutes. Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson miscommunicated behind the Hawks net on what looked to be the winning goal but the visitors buckled down after that. After the first period they didn't deserve a passing grade but that changed in the second and third periods.
Crawford's play in the first period alone kept the Hawks in the game as he was magnificent while the Bruins were taking control. The Bruins' first goal was a result of their play, not Crawford's. He did have a hand in the Bruins' second goal as the puck he mishandled behind his net eventually ended up in it, but Crawford kept the Hawks afloat while the rest of the team caught up. He was great.
The Hawks penalty killers re-found their mojo after some early-game struggles in the series. Boston had four straight power-play chances before the Hawks even had one -- and they were turned away each time. Yes, the Hawks' power play looked bad again and almost cost them as a late chance netted nothing, but if you include the extra-attacker goal late in the game then at least it can be called a man-advantage score. The penalty killers, though, were a key to the entire playoff run.
-Didn't extend elbow or launch.
-Didn't target head or make it principal point of contact.
Replays show Boychuk leaving his feet but only after initial contact with Toews was made. That’s not illegal. The first point of contact is Toews’ back and/or shoulder but not the head. Eventually the hit rides up Toews towards his neck and head and then Boychuk falls on him. Additionally, Boychuk has control of his stick – to his side – eliminating any thought of a crosscheck.
Toews finished the second period but did not play in the third due to an “upper-body” injury. He was on the bench during the period and teammates said afterwards he was asking his coach to play. Joel Quenneville said afterwards he was “hopeful” Toews would participate in Game 6 on Monday. The Hawks lead the series 3-2.
Game 5 Report Card: Chicago Blackhawks 3, Boston Bruins 1
Scoring two goals was enough for the Hawks on Saturday, but when they scored them was what made the difference. Taking a 1-0 lead late in the first period and then extending that lead to 2-0 in the second was huge. If the Bruins get their first goal before the Hawks get their second the outcome might be different. The line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell alone made the grade for the Hawks as they combined for 11 shots on net -- and Toews didn't even play in the third period. An empty-netter by Dave Bolland halted a frantic finish for Boston and sealed the win.
Yes, the Bruins came hard in the third period and scored a goal to cut the lead to one but the Hawks held strong most of the night, especially with Toews and Brent Seabrook hurting late in the game. The Bruins had just 25 shots, 11 below their playoff leading average. Adding to the defense was 17 blocked shots as none of the dangerous offensive stars for the Bruins had a good night. It was a solid defensive effort from start to finish -- minus a few expected minutes during a strong Bruins' push in the third period.
Corey Crawford came close to a shutout, taking a 2-0 lead into the third period before Zdeno Chara blasted one past him. Yes, it went glove side but that's of little concern considering Crawford stopped the other 24 shots that came his way. He wasn't needed to be spectacular, only solid, and performed up to the task after a five-goal game in Game 4.
The grade is as much for the fact that Boston had zero power-play attempts in the game, though the Hawks did struggle with their own man-advantage tries. But with the Hawks suddenly vulnerable killing penalties, staying out of the box served as a kill of its own. The Hawks took two minors and one was a questionable dive by Michal Handzus. But that was offset by Nathan Horton's hooking call on the play while Patrick Sharp was sent to the box at the same time as Johnny Boychuck of the Bruins. That was all the infractions the Hawks would incur. Special teams played no part in the game -- a victory for the home team considering their recent past in that department.
We might be more than a win away from using dynasty to describe the Chicago Blackhawks organization.
But it certainly would be a tempting proposition now that the Hawks are within one victory of earning their second Stanley Cup championship in four years, following a 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series on Saturday.
The Hawks lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 in Boston on Monday.
“I’m not even thinking about that right now,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said after a frantic finish to Game 5. “It’s going to be really tough.”
The Hawks found offensive success by attacking the net more no matter who was on the ice for the Bruins. Jonathan Toews expressed as much in the days after Game 4. Sustaining that at home should be easier to accomplish with the right work ethic considering any match-up concerns now favor the Hawks.
Did they really figure something out against Zdeno Chara or was that a fluke?
“It's not going to be like last game,” Dave Bolland predicted Saturday morning. “He's going to be looking to play a different game, change things around. We're going to have to be aware of him.”
Another key was the Hawks blue-line activating the offense and more importantly being a part of it. Michal Rozsival may have been one of the most important players on the ice as his shots led to two goals, establishing the Hawks lead for most of the night. Skating with the puck and pinching at the right time while helping on offense is a Hawks strength from the back-end. Expect it to continue.
Everyone’s eye will be on Corey Crawford’s glove on his left hand. Were his issues a one game aberration or something that might crop up again? If the worst case scenario happens, and Crawford gives up some early goals, there’s nothing to say Quenneville can’t go to Ray Emery. It’s not as likely of an option for Boston if the same struggles occur to Tuukka Rask because they don’t have a back-up who went 17-1. It’s doubtful Emery gets in there but it’s not a stretch to believe Crawford’s leash became a little shorter after Game 4.
Winning in the circle
Face-offs became an issue after the Hawks lost 71 percent of them in Game 3, but they reversed that trend in Game 4 coming out on top of about half of them. It had a big impact.
“I think it played a part early on in the game,” Quenneville said Saturday morning. “I thought we were much more effective than in the prior game. They got better as the game went on. I just think starting with the puck is key. I think having it against this team is important.”
The proof is in the results. The Hawks played a life-less Game 3 on offense when wining just 29 percent of the draws – and got shutout. Winning 38 of 77 face-offs made a big difference and it’s not a coincidence the Hawks scored more in Game 4, partly because of that improvement.
An X-factor line for Hawks
For a 6-5 final score in Game 3, the Hawks third line of Andrew Shaw, Viktor Stalberg and Brandon Saad had a quiet night. They combined for an even, plus/minus game, with their lone point coming on Saad’s short-handed assist to open the scoring. Collectively, they say they were happy with their defense in an open game but would like to be more noticeable on the offensive end. They combined for three shots on net.
“I like to get those chances,” Stalberg said of a bull rush around a slower defenseman. “The way they play, they play pretty structured. They come back five guys hard. The way to beat them is to keep longer cycles in their end, they have bigger guys that get tired, maybe. Longer puck possessions are key.”
Added Shaw: “Defensively we’ve been pretty good but we do need to create a few more offensive chances going into Game 5 here.”
Most observers felt the playing surface in Game 4 in Boston was better than in Game 3. Coincidentally, or not, the Hawks went from being shutout to scoring six goals. There’s little doubt a smoother surface benefits the speedy Hawks against most opponents – including the Bruins.
“I thought the ice was fine today,” Quenneville said. “It's kind of one of those days with the humidity and it will be a little warmer out there today. But the building and the playoffs have been fine, the ice has been fine. We talked about that going into that game against Detroit with the Stones (Rolling Stones), and I think everybody had no problem with the ice. I think sometimes late in periods you've got to know that it gets a little bit worn out in both buildings, and you've got to be smart in those areas.”
Still, things could be different at game time and a fast surface can only help the Hawks – not hurt them.
Marian Hossa will play and can only be feeling better after two days off the ice. He didn’t take the morning practice on Saturday so he hasn’t been on skates since the end of Game 4 late on Wednesday. Quenneville says he’ll be better in Game 5 as any boost from Hossa is a huge boost for the Hawks.