Chicago Blackhawks

Duncan Keith is a ‘freak’

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The disparity is huge. Duncan Keith is averaging 32:03, Kimmo Timonen just 10:22. The most ice time among Blackhawks defensemen, versus the least.

Partly by design and partly by necessity, Keith has been a workhouse for Chicago in these playoffs.

“He’s a freak,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said, per NHL.com. “He’s one of those athletes you don’t see every day. He’s as physically fit and prepared as they come, and he’s a guy that obviously loves playing hockey.”

Keith had three points in Game 6 versus Nashville, including the winning goal on a play that perfectly illustrated the 31-year-old’s ability to walk (dance?) the line and open shooting lanes:

Don’t expect the Blackhawks to lean any less on Keith in their series versus the Wild. Chicago’s defense has been under the microscope a lot this season, with inconsistent play from veterans Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival. The addition of 40-year-old Timonen has not done anything to quell concerns.

Said captain Jonathan Toews of Keith: “It’s huge for him to be as dynamic as he is offensively. But the minutes and the style that he plays, he means a lot to our team.”

Chicago hopes to fix struggling penalty kill

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The Chicago Blackhawks were able to eliminate the Nashville Predators in six games, but it was far from the perfect series for them. One of their biggest issues in the first round was their performance when attempting to kill penalties.

Chicago only managed to escape 72.7% of Nashville’s power-play opportunities without allowing a goal. In total they surrendered six markers in the first round, which is more than any other team. That’s in contrast to 2014 when Chicago allowed just 10 power-play goals in 19 playoff games and the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup-winning run when they were charged with just seven power-play goals against in 23 contests.

Making the matter even more worrying for the Blackhawks is the fact that their new opponent, Minnesota, went 4-for-12 with the man advantage in the first round.

“We definitely weren’t happy with how the PK worked out. We got scored on more than we’d like to,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “Right now we talk about it. We looked at some films to be on the same page, that’s the key.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville hopes to get off on the right foot and build some confidence. If they don’t succeed in doing that, then this could become a critical issue for Chicago going forward.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoff TV schedule for tonight

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A quick look at what games will be on what channels in tonight’s Stanley Cup playoff action…

Lightning at Canadiens, 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Montreal swept Tampa Bay in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, but this year’s series might be different. Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov took big steps forward in 2014-15 to give the Lightning more offensive depth and goaltender Ben Bishop is healthy this time around. That being said, the player to watch tonight will be Lightning captain Steven Stamkos after he failed to score a goal in the first round.

Wild at Blackhawks, 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

This is the third year in a row Chicago will face Minnesota in the playoffs. The Blackhawks won the last two series, but as is the case with the Lightning, there are reasons for the Wild to think this year might be different. For Minnesota, the single biggest change is goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Since acquiring him on Jan. 14, Minnesota has been one of the best teams in the league. Dubnyk posted a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage in 39 regular season contests with the Wild. He allowed six goals against the Blues in Game 4, but was far more hit than miss in that series and can be credited as one of the reasons Minnesota advanced. Corey Crawford, who temporarily lost the starting gig to Scott Darling due to Crawford’s rough start to the first round, will play between the pipes in Game 1.

On the difference between ‘good’ and ‘big-time’ players

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Let’s forget for just one second that Mike Babcock has a big decision to make about his future. This post isn’t an attempt to handicap where he’ll end up. We’ve already done plenty of that this season.

This post is applicable to fans of all 30 teams, not just those of the Detroit Red Wings. Because, for me, the one thing that Babcock said last night that really stood out was, per Yahoo Sports, the following:

“In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

When the Wings last won the Cup, they had two “big-time” centers in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and one “big-time” defenseman in Nicklas Lidstrom.

Not just “good,” but “big-time.” As in, future Hall of Famers. Elite. Best of the best.

Since Lidstrom retired, the Wings have not been past the second round of the playoffs.

In a related story, the Philadelphia Flyers never recovered from losing Chris Pronger and the future of the Boston Bruins is in question with an aging Zdeno Chara.

The last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Chara, Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty. All three are future Hall of Famers.

As for “up the middle,” Babcock asked last night, “Who’s going to replace Pav?” That’s a good question, because Datsyuk will turn 37 in July. A winner of three Selke Trophies, he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the history of the game.

Another related story: the last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, or Anze Kopitar. Again, all three are future Hall of Famers.

Meanwhile, there’s a reason there’s so much excitement in Edmonton about Connor McDavid, a center. Yet equally important will be the development of d-man Darnell Nurse.

Ditto for Buffalo, where there’s plenty of excitement for Jack Eichel; just don’t overlook the development of Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.

And for all the strife we’ve seen in Toronto, Leafs fans can at least be hopeful about Morgan Rielly and William Nylander. Toronto hasn’t had a “big-time” center since Mats Sundin. And did you know the Leafs, an Original Six franchise, have never had a Norris Trophy winner? The closest any Toronto blue-liner has come in the modern era is Borje Salming. The Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup in the modern era.

Look, nobody’s saying a team absolutely has to have a Norris Trophy winner on defense and a Selke Trophy/Hart Trophy winner at center. There are always going to be exceptions. The 2006 Hurricanes didn’t have an elite d-man, though people sometimes forget they had Rod Brind’Amour, a two-time Selke winner.

The thing is, you don’t build a team based on the exceptions. Otherwise, every NFL team would be looking for the next Trent Dilfer.

“We’ve got lots of good young players, no question about it, and ideally we’ve got some good ones coming,” Babcock said.

But are any going to be “big-time” centers or defensemen?

Not just good.

“Big-time.”

‘Hawks likely to use Teravainen in Game 1 vs. Wild

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Teuvo Teravainen spent the final four games of Chicago’s first round series against Nashville in the press box, but he should be back in the lineup for Game 1 of the second round series against Minnesota.

That’s based on the Blackhawks’ recent practice where he skated alongside Antoine Vermette and Patrick Sharp.

“The three of them looked good out there today,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told CSN Chicago. “They all [have] a little bit something different on the line, they’ve all got different dimensions to their game. He’s got two experienced guys out there but I like his presence, as well. I think he’s going to add some speed and I think that predictability on both sides of the puck is something that he can bring to that line. We’ll see how it plays itself out. Potentially, it could really be a good line for us.”

If Chicago’s practice lines prove to be accurate then Kris Versteeg will be a healthy scratch after scoring a goal and averaging 15:34 minutes per contest in the first round.

Teravainen, 20, had four goals and nine points in 34 contests in 2014-15. Those lukewarm offensive numbers don’t properly highlight his potential though.

He held his own in Game 1 of the first round series, but left something to be desired in Game 2. Since then he’s had an opportunity to get more comfortable with the playoff atmosphere and study the games as an observer. Now it seems like he’ll get another chance to prove he’s ready to contribute in the postseason.