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Oshie's return still uncertain for Blues

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
3:58
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
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HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie is expected to return from an upper-body injury sometime during the Western Conference first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is still unsure when that will be.

Oshie
Oshie missed Game 1 on Thursday and as of Friday afternoon is not expected to play in Saturday's Game 2.

"Until someone taps me on the shoulder and says he's a game player, he's out," Hitchcock said on Friday. "Our lineup is going to be fluid every day. Every day it's going to be fluid. I told you guys before we're going to have everybody play in this series at some period of time. That obviously means by Game 5 we expect everybody be ready to go. Hopefully nobody gets injured. Touch wood, but that's our expectation."

Oshie has missed the Blues' past three games due to the injury. He took a hit to the head against the Minnesota Wild on April 10 and has not played since then. He had 21 goals, 39 assists and a plus-19 rating in 79 regular season games.

The Blues were also without forward Patrik Berglund due to an upper-body injury in Game 1. He has missed two consecutive games due to the injury. He had 14 goals, 18 assists and a plus-10 rating in 78 regular-season games.

Hitchcock said he'd likely have a better idea of the injured players' status on Saturday morning.

"We kind of know every morning, the game day, who's in," Hitchcock said. "Today was a good day for the guys that were out, another good day. We'll see how they feel tomorrow."

The Blues defeated the Blackhawks 4-3 in three overtimes in Game 1 of the series on Thursday.

Teravainen likely joining Finland for Worlds

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
2:54
PM CT
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Chicago Blackhawks prospect Teuvo Teravainen will most likely join Team Finland on Monday in preparation for the upcoming IIHF World Championship, according to a source.

The 19-year-old Teravainen, who is considered the Blackhawks' top prospect, was recalled by the Blackhawks from Jokerit in Finland's Liiga on March 21. He played three games for the Blackhawks before being reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL on April 10. He has one goal and a plus-1 rating in three games for the IceHogs. The IceHogs will complete their regular season on Saturday.

The Blackhawks sent Teravainen to the AHL to get more ice time. He was a healthy scratch in the Blackhawks' four games prior to him being assigned to the IceHogs.

Teravainen said Sunday he believed he could play in the NHL now, but he understood the Blackhawks' decision.

"I think I can play in that league right now," Teravainen said to ESPNChicago.com on Sunday. "I have played with men in Finland for 2-3 years, so I'm ready to play there. I think I played OK, but I think it's not enough. I can play there, but it'll take some time getting used to this league and this North American hockey. It's different than European hockey. Like I said, I'm just learning every day here and just trying to help this team."

The IIHF World Championship will begin on May 9 in Minsk, Belarus. Teravainen helped Finland to a gold medal in the IIHF World Junior Championship in January.

By the numbers: Hawks-Blues Game 1

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
11:18
AM CT
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ST. LOUIS – Here's a look at the St. Louis Blues' 4-3 three-overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday by the numbers:

• After scoring three goals within 7 minutes and 10 seconds in the first period, the Blackhawks didn't score in the game's final 82 minutes and two seconds.

• Blues goaltender Ryan Miller allowed three goals on the Blackhawks' first seven shots on net. He stopped the next 35.

• Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith played 40-plus minutes for the third time in his career. He played 40:59 on Thursday. He played 40:12 against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals last season and a career-high 48:40 against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals last season.

• Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson played a game-high 61 shifts. He also had a game-high six blocked shots.

• The game was the longest in the Blues' history. Their previous longest game lasted 37:07 into overtime against the Detroit Red Wings in 1984.

• The Blues had 103 total shot attempts, including 52 on goal, and the Blackhawks had 84 shot attempts, including 42 on goal.

• The Blues allowed six more power plays due to penalties on Thursday. Their opponents have had 62 power plays over the last 14 games, killing off 53. By comparison, the Blackhawks have allowed 36 power plays in their last 14 games

• Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo led everyone in ice time, playing 44:08.

• Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford's 48 saves were a season-high. He set a career-high with 51 saves against the Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals last season.

• The Blackhawks scored one power-play goal on six opportunities. They have scored multiple power-play goals just once in the last 25 games. The last time was against the Blues on March 19. The Blackhawks also had five shots on goal during their power plays on Thursday.

• The Blues had 10 forwards with possession numbers better than 50 percent in 5-on-5 situations, and the Blackhawks had five, according to extraskater.com.

Patrick Sharp is the lone Blackhawks forward to have positive possession numbers in all six games against the Blues this season, according to extraskater.com. He had a 54.2 Corsi percentage (the Blackhawks had 26 shots for and 22 against when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 situations) on Thursday. He hasn't had a Corsi percentage lower than 54 percent against the Blues this season and has a 56.3 Corsi (112 shots for, 87 against) in all six games.

• The Blackhawks won 62-of-109 faceoffs. Jonathan Toews led the Blackhawks by winning 21-of-32 faceoffs. The Blues had five players who won less than 50 percent of their faceoffs.

• The Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko and Chris Porter tied for a game-high seven shots on goal.

• Toews led the Blackhawks' forwards with 32:37 of ice time. He had missed the team's last six games. Patrick Kane, who was out the last 12 games, played 28:31.

• The longest game in Blackhawks' history took 53:50 to decide in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens on April 9, 1931. Thursday's game lasted 40:26 of overtime.

Blues have Blackhawks' number late, again

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
1:18
AM CT
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ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Blackhawks experienced the familiar feeling Thursday of almost defeating the St. Louis Blues in the Scottrade Center.

Three times the Blackhawks have been in position in the final period to knock off the Blues in their building this season, and three times the Blues have crushed the Blackhawks’ spirits with late victories.

Thursday’s 4-3, three-overtime loss to the Blues in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series certainly hurt the Blackhawks much more than the previous two.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis Blues
Mark Buckner/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe above sentiment is becoming more commonplace for the Blues late in games against the Blackhawks at St. Louis.
The Blackhawks led 3-2 for nearly 40 minutes and had the finish line in sight as the game clock was down to the final two minutes of the third period on Thursday. But just as the Blues proved in their two regular-season meetings in St. Louis, their fight wouldn’t cease until game’s end.

The Blues had been the dominant team throughout the third period as the Blackhawks tried to protect their one-goal lead, and with 1:45 remaining in the third period, the Blues were rewarded for their effort. It was then Jaden Schwartz struck the puck past Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford to tie the game at three and ultimately force overtime. The Blues finished the job when Alexander Steen scored 26 seconds into the third overtime.

"They’re pressing," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of the Blues in the third period. "They’re pinching. They’re aggressive. They’re gambling. They had some opportunities there. We almost got through it."

"Almost" is a prevailing feeling for the Blackhawks against the Blues at the Scottrade Center. The Blackhawks almost topped the Blues when they first met in St. Louis this season on Oct. 9, but the Blues scored in the final minute of the third period and won 3-2. When they next met in St. Louis on Dec. 28, the Blackhawks were leading 5-3 in the third period before the Blues rallied with two goals in the final four minutes, forced overtime and won in a shootout.

Quenneville wasn’t oblivious to the similarities.

"We were close to getting it done," Quenneville said. "It was just like the last two games in this building here."

The Blackhawks had some quality opportunities in the third period to extend their lead to two goals. The Blues gave the Blackhawks two power plays in the last 15 minutes, but they didn’t get a single shot on net off either of them. The Blues had 14 shots on goal to the Blackhawks’ six in the third period.

Quenneville played the two power plays in the third period safe by placing two defensemen on each unit in case the Blues created a short-handed chance. He didn’t regret that.

"We’ve done that all year," Quenneville said. "We didn’t change anything on the timing or the score and the situation."

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane felt his team might have been holding onto the puck too long and trying to contain the lead too much late in the game.

"Maybe a little bit, for sure, especially the last 5-10 minutes," Kane said. "I know we had a couple power plays where we could have maybe scored, made it 4-2, which would have been nice. It didn’t work out that way.

"We’ll try to get the power play going a little bit better and capitalize on our opportunities there. Definitely would have been nice to get another one and give us a little bit [of] insurance."

The Blackhawks don’t have much time to dwell on their loss. The teams return to the same building for Game 2 at 2 p.m. CT on Saturday. Kane believes that might be a good thing.

"It stings right now, obviously," Kane said. "The big thing for us is we got to realize it’s only one game. We obviously got a quick turnaround playing an afternoon game coming up.

"That’s the best part of it; we can get back at it and figure out what we can do better."

Rapid Reaction: Blues 4, Hawks 3 (F/3OT)

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
11:53
PM CT
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ST. LOUIS -- Here’s a quick look at the St. Louis Blues’ 4-3 three-overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series at the Scottrade Center on Thursday.

How it happened: The Blackhawks and Blues set the bar high for the remainder of the series. The Blues’ Alexander Steen scored 26 seconds into the third overtime for the win. The Blackhawks looked to have the game secured in regulation. They were leading 3-2 heading into the final two minutes of the third period. Jaden Schwartz saved the Blues by scoring in front of the net with 1:56 remaining in the third period. The Blackhawks had been leading 3-2 since the end of the first period. Patrick Kane broke a 2-2 tie at 18:24 of the first period, when he received a stretch pass from Jonathan Toews and scored on a breakaway. The Blackhawks’ Johnny Oduya and Brent Seabrook and the Blues’ Adam Cracknell and Vladimir Tarasenko also scored first-period goals. The Blackhawks nearly won the game in the first overtime, but Blues forward Maxim Lapierre blocked a Blackhawks’ shot while standing behind goaltender Ryan Miller in the net. Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford made 48 saves on 52 shots. Miller made 39 saves on 42 shots. The Blackhawks failed to score on two overtime power plays, and the Blues squandered one overtime power-play opportunity of their own.

What it means: The Blues went up 1-0 in the series and held onto their home-ice advantage. The Blues have scored a number of clutch third-period goals against the Blackhawks this season. The Blues pulled out a 3-2 win over the Blackhawks by scoring in the final minute of the third period on Oct. 9. The Blues came back from a 5-3 deficit when they scored two goals in the final four minutes of the third period on Dec. 28, then won in the shootout. The Blues’ win on Thursday marked their first victory since April 3.

Both teams benefited in getting some of their top players back. Tarasenko had missed the previous 15 games for the Blues. Kane was out the previous 12 games, and Toews missed six games. The Blackhawks’ top line of Toews, Kris Versteeg and Brandon Saad was especially effective for the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks won 54-of-91 faceoffs.

Player of the game: Steen scored the winning goal.

Stat of the game: Blues defensemen Alex Pietrangelo played a game-high 44:08 of ice time.

What’s next: The series remains in St. Louis for Game 2, at 2 p.m. CT Saturday.

ESPN Chicago picks: Hawks vs. Blues

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
3:12
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
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W2W4: Blackhawks vs. Blues (Game 1)

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
12:09
PM CT
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ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues begin their Western Conference first-round series at the Scottrade Center on Thursday. Here's what to watch for:

• The Blues were beat up in many ways by the end of the regular season. They dropped their last six games and allowed the Colorado Avalanche to surpass them for first place in the Central Division. The Blues were also losing players on a near daily basis. They were without David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Barret Jackman, Brenden Morrow, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir Tarasenko because of injuries in the regular-season finale. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has said he expects all of the players back at some point in the series.

• Tarasenko's return could especially benefit the Blues, who are struggling offensively. He missed the team's past 15 games because of a hand injury. Prior to leaving the lineup, he had produced points in eight of his last nine games, and the Blues went 8-0-1 during that stretch. Since his injury, the Blues went 6-9-0. Goals have been hard to come by for the Blues since losing him -- they were held to fewer than three goals in 12 of the last 15 games. Tarasenko finished the regular season tied for fourth on the team with 21 goals in 64 games.

• The Blackhawks will return two of their top players for Game 1 with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back in the lineup Thursday night. Toews missed the last six regular-season games because of an upper-body injury, and Kane was out the final 12 games with a lower-body injury. Kane is second on the team with 69 points and Toews is third with 68.

• Both games between the Blackhawks and Blues in St. Louis went down to the wire. The Blues scored in the final minute of the third period to snatch a 3-2 win in their first game Oct. 9. They also had some late heroics Dec. 28 and scored two goals in the first four minutes of the third period to erase a 5-3 deficit. The Blues won 6-5 in a shootout. The Blues went 28-9-4 at home this season.

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• One-goal games are a common sight in the playoffs, and that's an area where the Blues excelled during the regular season. The Blues had a 24-5-7 record and .667 winning percentage, third best in the league, in games decided by one goal. The Blackhawks ranked 27th in the category with a 17-8-15 record and .425 winning percentage. The Blackhawks were 9-2 in one-goal games during the playoffs last season.

• The Blackhawks were the first team to really get to goaltender Ryan Miller since he arrived in St. Louis in a trade in early March. He had a 1.63 goal-against average and .933 save percentage in his first eight games with the Blues and hadn't allowed more than three goals in any of those games. The Blackhawks lit him up for four goals March 19. Beginning with that game and ending in the regular-season finale, he allowed 33 goals and had a .883 save percentage in his last 11 games.

• The Blackhawks' power play and penalty kill are headed in two different directions. They have killed off 57-of-66 penalties for an 86.4 percentage over the last 22 games since returning from the Olympic break. In that same span, they scored eight power-play goals on 67 chances for an 11.9 percentage.

• The Blues allowed their opponents 56 power plays over the past 13 games, killing off 48 of them. The Colorado Avalanche had eight power-play chances against them April 5. By comparison, the Blackhawks allowed 32 power plays over their final 13 games.

Crawford providing Hawks stability in net

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
11:53
AM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- Whether Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford would be able to follow up last season's success was somewhat in question the first two and a half months of this season.

Coming off a career-best season, Crawford wasn't at that same level through his first 24 starts of 2013-14. The Blackhawks often bailed him out with their scoring power, but his numbers indicated he was struggling to find consistency.

[+] EnlargeCorey Crawford
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsTwenty of Corey Crawford's 31 starts since he returned from injury were Quality Starts.
Crawford's season took a turn when he suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 8, sidelining him almost a full month. When he returned, he manned the net the way he did last season. Over the second half of the season, he has maintained that play and diminished doubts about whether he can lead the Blackhawks to another Stanley Cup.

An advanced statistic that's becoming more common to evaluate goaltenders is Quality Starts, achieved when a goaltender has a .917 save percentage or higher or has at least an .885 save percentage along with allowing two goals or fewer. Another statistic also utilized is Really Bad Start, when a goaltender has a save percentage of less than .850 in a game.

Of Crawford's first 24 starts this season, he had 13 Quality Starts and five Really Bad Starts. His .542 Quality Start percentage was far off from the .714 percentage he compiled last regular season. He had 20 Quality Starts and five Really Bad Starts in 28 regular-season games. He was even better in the playoffs, with 20 Quality Starts and one Really Bad Start in 24 games.

In his 31 starts since coming back from his injury this season, he's had 20 Quality Starts for a .645 percentage and just one Really Bad Start, which came in a meaningless 4-0 loss to the Washington Capitals last week, in his final start of the regular season. He's stopped 800 of 866 shots for a .930 save percentage since Jan. 2.

Crawford has acknowledged the change in his play in the second half of the season.

"I've been feeling really well since I came back from injury in December," Crawford said recently. "It's just a matter of going out each time and getting focused and taking nothing for granted and making sure the next puck is mine and ready for each shot."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville admires how Crawford has been able to move on so quickly from play to play and game to game.

"Goalies, that mindset's got to be what's next, it's not what just happened," Quenneville said. "They've got to go in the now quickly. Whatever happened, good or bad, you've got to move forward because a lot of times you get measured on the ones you don't save. It's the ones that go in, as opposed to the great saves or the ones that are predictable.

"It's always challenging, the scrutiny goalies have and face on a daily basis, especially under the microscope even more so come playoff time. But Crow doesn't get rattled. He's unflappable. Especially at this time of the year, and he's proved last year that he moves forward and handles the next situation."

Crawford had his share of skeptics prior to the playoffs last season, but he quieted most of them after leading the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup. There may always be some who question Crawford's ability, but Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp is sure they weren't among his teammates.

"In our locker room, we certainly respect what he can do," Sharp said. "It seems like we always answer questions about Crow. I'm not sure why. He's a good goalie. There's no questions or lack of respect in our locker room."

Chat alert: Scott Powers at 2 CT

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
11:32
AM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers takes your Blackhawks questions during a live chat at 2 p.m. CT Thursday. Click here to submit your questions.

Playoffs are Ben Smith's time of year

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
4:29
PM CT
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CHICAGO -- Ben Smith has a track record for being clutch in the playoffs.

He did it first while at Boston College. He helped the Eagles to three Frozen Four appearances and two national championships in four years. He was the most valuable player of the Frozen Four his senior season.

[+] EnlargeBlackhawks vs. Wild
AP ImagesBen Smith hopes his penchant for success in the playoffs continues against the Blues.
He then proved his playoff worth for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011. Despite appearing in just six regular season games, Smith got his chance to play in a first-round series with the Vancouver Canucks and shined. He scored two goals in Game 2 and scored the game-winner in overtime in Game 6.

Smith was even called upon last season to fill in for Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals despite having played in just one regular season game.

Smith can't explain why he's played well in the playoffs throughout his career, but he links it to the big-game pressure and the arrival of spring.

"I don't know," Smith said after a recent practice. "I just think it's enjoying the pressure, enjoying playoff hockey. When the weather gets a bit warmer, you always feel that kind of energy, that playoff energy. Just trying to simplify, get to the net and that kind of grind-it-out style might benefit me going to the net hard and making simple plays.

"You never know what's going to happen, but it's been nice to have had that experience in the past having some success in the playoffs and being able to draw from it."

Unlike Smith's last NHL playoff appearance, he will be entering this season's playoffs having played a full season with the Blackhawks. He made the team out of training in September, had to fight early in the season for ice time and eventually became an everyday player.

Smith played a majority of the season in a defensive role on the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger, but he's also been given a top-6 forward role at times. He finished the regular season with 14 goals, 12 assists and a plus-2 rating in 75 games.

"For me, it's been a nice year having been up here all season and to be able to contribute as I have," Smith said. "There's a lot riding on what's next here. We're taking it day by day and just trying to help this team win however I can. It's certainly an exciting time of the year."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's confidence has grown in Smith throughout the season. Smith's minutes have increased as the season has progressed, and he was even placed as the second-line center alongside Patrick Kane during one stretch.

"We're comfortable with Benny's game," Quenneville said. "He's one of those that approaches every day like he wants to be good, improve his game. He's never satisfied. He's always looking for more based on how he's competing, how he prepares.

"He's a great young kid coming into the league that has a lot of enthusiasm and does everything he can on a game-to-game, shift-to-shift basis where he earns more, deserves more. He had one of those years he just got better. I'm sure he's excited about where his game is and where he's at right now."

Smith has been getting into his playoff form in recent weeks. He scored goals in four of the Blackhawks' past six games.

"That felt good," Smith said. "Obviously we dropped a couple games there at the end which weren't our best games. Creating some momentum, it was nice to get a few and have some confidence around the net here going into the playoffs."

As for his reputation as big-game player, Smith shrugs it off.

"I don't really think of it that way," Smith said. "I just go out and try to work hard and play my game and hope for good results."

Hawks recall goaltender Carruth

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
4:03
PM CT
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The Chicago Blackhawks recalled goaltender Mac Carruth from the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL on Wednesday.

Carruth, 22, played for the IceHogs and the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye and Florida Everblades this season. He had a 2-2-1 record with a 3.36 goals-against average and .880 save percentage in seven game for the IceHogs. He was 8-15-0 with a 3.36 goals-against average and .898 save percentage in 25 games for the Walleye and 2-4-1 with a 3.45 goals-against average and .874 save percentage with the Everblades.

Carruth was selected by the Blackhawks in the seventh round of the 2010 draft. He played in the Western Hockey League from 2009-2010.

The Blackhawks are now carrying three goaltenders, which also includes Corey Crawford and Antti Raanta.

Bickell carrying confidence into playoffs

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
3:13
PM CT
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell has come to better understand over the years why he has success or why he struggles at times.

Often, Bickell can pinpoint the primary factor being his confidence. If he's confident, he's normally playing well. If he lacks it, his play pays the price.

[+] EnlargeBryan Bickell
Bill Smith/Getty ImagesBryan Bickell hopes to turn the page on an inconsistent regular season with another big playoff performance.
The good news for the Blackhawks is, after enduring more lows than highs throughout the regular season, Bickell has regained his confidence just in time for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Bickell was among the team's leaders in possession over the past six games after he returned from an injury in early April. He had a 64.3 Corsi percentage (the Blackhawks had 74 shots for and 41 against when he was on the ice) in the past six games. He also had one goal, two assists and 14 shots on goal during that span.

Another important ingredient for Bickell's confidence has been Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville showing his own belief in him. Bickell averaged nearly 12 minutes a game in April.

"I'm just getting confident," Bickell said after a recent practice. "[Quenneville's] getting more confident in me to put me in different situations and me getting confident in myself to play good. I think confidence is one of my things I've been trying to work on in my career. There have been ups and downs. To have confidence now going into the playoffs is important."

A slow start to the regular season first and then a knee injury negatively impacted Bickell's confidence for stretches of the regular season. He had a couple of positive swings, including scoring in four consecutive games in late October, but he wasn't able to consistently play at that level. In January, he had one point and a minus-7 rating in 12 games. Quenneville even made him a healthy scratch for a game.

Bickell began improving his play when the Blackhawks returned from the Olympic break. He scored in two of the first four games, and Quenneville increased his minutes again. Bickell was derailed again when he suffered an upper-body injury against the St. Louis Blues on March 19 and missed six games, but he found his form again quickly in his return.

Now as the Blackhawks open the playoffs against the Blues on Thursday, Bickell hopes that confidence will lead to similar results he had last season, where he had 17 points, including nine goals during their Stanley Cup run. He scored in nine different playoff games, including Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals when he had the game-tying goal in the third period against the Boston Bruins.

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Hawks practice as full team, arrange lines

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
3:01
PM CT
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks did something Tuesday they haven't been able to do for almost a month.

They practiced as a full team. All 15 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders were healthy and participated in the hour-long practice at Johnny's IceHouse West.

Toews
Kane
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews joined his teammates on the ice Tuesday for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury on March 30. Patrick Kane also participated in his first full team practice since his injury on March 19. He had participated in a team morning skate last week.

"I thought, at least for me being out there the first time, the pace was pretty high -- seems like everyone's excited about what's going to happen here going forward here in the playoffs," Kane said. "It was nice to get out there, skate with the team in a real practice, and even nicer to have one [Wednesday]."

With everyone on the ice, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville unveiled his probable lines to begin the playoffs, and there were some changes.

Quenneville placed Kris Versteeg, Toews and Brandon Saad together on the top line. Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus and Marian Hossa skated together on the second line. Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Kane comprised the third line. Quenneville stuck with his usual fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith.

Sharp, Toews and Hossa played together on a line for a bulk of the season, and Kane was mostly on the second line. Versteeg and Saad have bounced everywhere from the first to third lines this season.

Quenneville said he is looking for balance in the four lines.

"I thought all the lines have comparable ingredients with the ability to score and play without the puck, as well," Quenneville said. "We also had that continuity of at least a couple of guys who are familiar with one another. Whether you revert back or you like the matchup, even in the course of the game, you can always move one or two guys around without really rearranging too much; having that flexibility, and some guys can play both sides and go in the middle, as well. Every game would be different, but right now you like the balance."

Kane has played with Shaw and Bickell before. Kane and Bickell shared a line for much of the playoffs last season and were both essential to the team's Stanley Cup run.

Kane believes that even though Bickell and Shaw are physical players and could give him protection against the St. Louis Blues, they also need to stick to their games.

"To be honest with you, I think playing with them two guys, you want to make sure you're matching their work ethic because they're always going to be working hard," Kane said. "At the same time, we want to play smart, play good defensively, make sure we're not giving anything up.

"Sometimes you go into a series and you think a little too much about the physical play or what's going to happen and it throws you off. I think for us, we've just got to go out there, play hockey the way we know how to play, and not worry about all that other stuff, whether it happens after the whistle or during the play. I think in the past we've maybe gotten caught up in that a little bit."

Quenneville is optimistic that the line of Versteeg, Toews and Saad can be productive for the Blackhawks.

"We feel [Saad is] capable of playing against top guys," Quenneville said. "He's played with Jonny a lot the last couple years. [Versteeg] as well has played in some big situations. We'll see how that all works out -- certainly has the capability of working well together. [Versteeg] did play a little bit with [Toews and Saad] there recently. That line looked pretty good together."

Morin staying upbeat despite white jersey

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
2:24
PM CT
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CHICAGO -- Jeremy Morin found himself in the dreaded white Chicago Blackhawks jersey on Tuesday, meaning he's likely out of the lineup to begin the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Morin was disappointed not to be among the team's top four lines during practice at Johnny's IceHouse West on Tuesday, but he is hopeful coach Joel Quenneville will consider him in the coming weeks based on his recent play.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Morin
Derek Leung/Getty ImagesJeremy Morin had four goals and two assists over the final six games but likely will open the playoffs on the bench.
The Blackhawks open the playoffs on the road against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

"Obviously you want to be in the lineup, but honestly I can say I'm really excited to be here and just be a part of it," Morin said after practice. "I've never experienced playoffs before in pro hockey. I'm just really excited to be here and be around the guys. Anything I can do, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to be here.

"That's all I can try to do with the time I had, prove I can contribute in some way. Hopefully I put myself in an opportunity to get some time at some point, but I'm really excited to be here and looking forward to it."

Morin made his case for ice time over the past six games. Since being a healthy scratch on March 30, Morin responded with four goals and two assists over the final six games of the regular season.

Morin's possession numbers were also among the team's best during that period. He had a 66.2 Corsi percentage (the Blackhawks had 80 shots for, 41 against when he was on the ice) during the past six games. He didn't have a Corsi percentage lower than 57.1 in a given game during that span.

Quenneville spoke positively about Morin's recent play and left the door open to him playing at some point in the playoffs.

"I think [Morin] at the end of the year, he gave us some energy," Quenneville said. "He scored some big goals for us down the road. We'll see how that all works out."

Morin is on his fourth stint with the Blackhawks this season. He was last recalled from the Rockford IceHogs on March 21. He has six goals and six assists in 23 games in the NHL this season.

Morin believes his recent success improved his confidence, and he'll be ready if Quenneville chooses to play him in the playoffs.

"I think that helped out my confidence a bit, being able to contribute the last five games or whatever it was and have some success. If my name does get called, I'll be ready to play, bring some energy, but those games probably helped out with my confidence.

"I just need to stay ready, you never know what can happen. Obviously, I've been looking forward to being here and if my name is ever called, I'll be ready."

Blackhawks forward Ben Smith can attest to the fact anything can happen in the playoffs. He played in one regular-season game last season and found himself replacing Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals due to an injury.

"That's what they tell you all along is to be ready," Smith said. "You never know what happens here with injuries. Hopefully we don't have any, but for [Morin] and everyone that is where I was last year, always be ready, always be prepared, stay in shape and do what you have to do, so you can step right in and try to contribute."

Six Blackhawks to watch in playoffs

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
2:11
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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Bryan BickellCal Sport Media/AP ImagesBryan Bickell's emergence in the playoffs will be key to the Blackhawks' chances.
Here are six players aside from the Chicago Blackhawks' stars who will need to step up their production in the playoffs:

Bryan Bickell, forward


The Blackhawks don't likely win the Stanley Cup without Bickell's emergence in the playoffs last season. He had an ordinary regular season with nine goals and 14 assists in 48 games last season. In the playoffs, he was a different player. With nine playoffs goals, he accounted for 14 percent of the Blackhawks' scoring during their Cup run. He was also second on the team with 17 points and second with a plus-12 rating. More was expected of Bickell this regular season after his playoff performance and a new contract, but he was deterred by a slow start and a knee injury. He finished with 11 goals, four assists and a minus-6 rating in 59 games. His play has improved in the past month. He's had a Corsi percentage (shots for vs. shots against) of 56.5 percent or higher in nine of his past 10 games, according to extraskater.com. He's also had three or more shots on goal in four of the past seven games.

Nick Leddy, defenseman


Leddy had a rough go in the playoffs last season. He had zero goals, two assists and a minus-8 rating in 23 playoff games. He fell out of favor with Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville late in the Stanley Cup finals and played just 2:37, 6:53 and 3:25 in the final three games of the series. He regained Quenneville's faith this season. He had seven goals, 24 assists, a plus-10 rating and averaged 16:22 of ice time in 82 games. He's also had a 57.1 Corsi percentage. He'll likely be paired with Michal Rozsival in the playoffs again.

Michal Rozsival, defenseman


Rozsival was in and out of the lineup throughout the regular season and was a permanent fixture in the playoffs last season. That likely will be the case again this season. The Blackhawks now hope he can be as consistent as he was in the playoffs last season. Among the players who played 20-plus playoff games last season, he was fifth on the team with a 57.4 Corsi percentage (Blackhawks had 382 shots for, 284 against when he was on the ice) in 5-on-5 situations. He averaged 19:16 of ice time during the playoffs. This season Rozsival has played in 42 games. Between an injury and additional rest, he's played in nine games since he returned from the Olympics. He hasn't played more than two consecutive games since prior to the Olympic break and has played in more than two consecutive games during just two spans this season. He has been solid when he's played this season. He has a 58.8 Corsi (620 shots for, 435 shots against), which is 2.7 percent higher than when he's not on the ice.

[+] EnlargeBlackhawks
Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY SportsThe Blackhawks need Brandon Saad to take a big step in his second playoffs.

Brandon Saad, forward


Not much was expected of Saad in the playoffs last season because he was still a rookie. From a possession standpoint, he held his own. When he was on the ice in 5-on-5 situations in the playoffs, the Blackhawks had 330 shots for and 207 against. But he didn't produce much, with one goal, five assists and a minus-1 rating in 23 playoff games. A season later, the Blackhawks need Saad to be better than that. He was often a key contributor to the Blackhawks throughout this season. He was sixth on the team with 40 points, which included 19 goals. To produce in the playoffs, he's going to need to find more consistency to his game than what he's provided lately. Since suffering an injury in mid-March, he hasn't scored in the past 10 games and had a minus-9 rating during that span. His possession numbers have also dropped. He's had a 60 Corsi percentage or higher in 30 games this season, and 28 of those occurred prior to his injury.

Ben Smith, forward


Smith was recalled at the end of last season and got into one playoff game -- Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals -- when Marian Hossa was scratched due to an injury. Smith will have a much larger role this season. Of the Blackhawks' fourth-line players, Smith is the one who provides the most consistent offense. He's seventh on the team with 14 goals and is riding a hot streak into the playoffs. He's scored goals in four of the past six games. He'll also continue to be relied upon defensively. His shifts have started 47.5 percent of the time in the defensive zone. Smith has excelled in the postseason before; he helped Boston College to two NCAA titles, and he had three goals in seven games for the Blackhawks in the 2011 playoffs.

Kris Versteeg, forward


The Blackhawks were hoping Versteeg could be the same player he was for them the last time around when they traded for him in November. That hasn't been the case. He's had positive spurts, but he's also been inconsistent. He admitted he came back from his knee injury too soon and will need another offseason to strengthen it to be closer to his old self. Since the Olympic break, he's had three goals and five assists. His possession numbers have also varied since the break. He's had 15 games with a Corsi percentage of above 50 percent and eight games below. Traditionally, he has played well in the postseason, with 14 goals, 23 assists and a plus-2 rating in 57 career playoff games.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26