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Posted On Tuesday, 04.14.2015 / 6:09 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - Predators-Blackhawks series blog

Blackhawks likely to scratch Vermette for Game 1

CHICAGO – It was a struggle for Chicago Blackhawks center Antoine Vermette to find the right words after practice Tuesday.

The 32-year-old, acquired Feb. 28 in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes, is likely to be a healthy scratch to start the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Nashville Predators on Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA3, CSN-CH, FS-TN).

Vermette, who centered Arizona's top line, was considered by some analysts to be the top forward available prior to the March 2 NHL Trade Deadline. Now he's stuck outside the Blackhawks' top four lines to begin the postseason.

"Obviously I want to play, I want to help the team to win [and be] successful," said Vermette, who didn't score a goal, and had three assists and a minus-2 rating in 19 games after the trade. "Certainly the last thing I want to do is make it about myself and be a distraction."

Posted On Tuesday, 04.07.2015 / 3:18 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 2014-2015 At the Rink blog

At the Rink: Wild at Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks won't have center Brad Richards and the Minnesota Wild might have left wing Jason Zucker for the first time since early February when the teams play at United Center on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CSN-CH).

Richards didn't participate in the morning skate and coach Joel Quenneville said he will sit the Blackhawks' remaining three games with an upper-body injury. Rookie forward Kyle Baun, recently signed as a college free agent, will make his NHL debut and could play right wing on the second line with Antoine Vermette and left wing Brandon Saad.

Vermette will shift back to center of the second line after a five-game stint on the right wing of the same line, which Richards centered.

"[Baun has] a lot of enthusiasm to his game and we like the way he moves out there," Quenneville said. "What he does bring is some quickness and he's one of those hard players that you look forward to seeing. He's got a lot of enthusiasm and I'm sure he can't wait to get out there tonight."

Posted On Sunday, 04.05.2015 / 1:56 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 2014-2015 At the Rink blog

At the Rink: Blues at Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The only way things could get any tighter in the Central Division is if the Chicago Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues in overtime or a shootout at United Center on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

Should that scenario play out, the top three teams in the division – the Blackhawks, Blues and Nashville Predators – each would have 104 points with three games remaining in the regular season. The final week will determine a lot in the Central heading into the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It’s amazing how this has played out the last part of the season here, where there hasn’t been any separation, hasn’t been any clarity,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the morning skate. “Usually some of these races are for playoff spots or positioning, but it says a lot about our division, knowing that teams are all tied at the top. At the end of the day, we could have 90 points across the board [in the division], which is pretty unusual.”

Posted On Thursday, 04.02.2015 / 2:44 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 2014-2015 At the Rink blog

At the Rink: Canucks at Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- A week ago, the Chicago Blackhawks got a scare after two losses in a row to the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets dropped them out of third place in the Central Division.

They were passed by the Minnesota Wild by a point and concern was brewing that Chicago might fall out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot altogether. Back-to-back wins at the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, and at home against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, eased those fears, but the Blackhawks know they can’t let up just yet.

They’re on the verge of clinching a playoff spot with a win against the Vancouver Canucks at United Center on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; SNP, CSN-CH), but they’re not assuming anything is a given.

"I think this game is the same meaning as the last couple of games," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's very important for both teams. There's still a lot to be sorted out and you want to move ahead. There's a lot of [teams] around us, as well, so I don't think anything's been decided."

Posted On Monday, 03.30.2015 / 7:51 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 2014-2015 At the Rink blog

At the Rink: Kings at Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks aren't at the top of the Western Conference standings, but they still draw a lot of interest whenever they play each other.

After splitting the past two Western Conference Final series and winning the past two Stanley Cup titles, the defending champion Kings and Blackhawks have earned a lot of respect, including each other's. They will decide their three-game season series at United Center on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) in the Kings' first return to Chicago since winning in overtime of Game 7 to advance to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

"We're excited," Kings forward Tyler Toffoli said after a well-attended optional morning skate. "It was a really fun series. Obviously when you win, it makes it even more fun. You look back and you think of what we did, but at this time of the season you've got to forget about it and be ready to play."

Posted On Friday, 03.27.2015 / 3:22 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 2014-2015 At the Rink blog

At the Rink: Blue Jackets at Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- It's been a problem that could again give the Chicago Blackhawks a challenge against the Columbus Blue Jackets at United Center on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET; FS-O, CSN-CH).

Despite remaining one of the top teams in the Central Division and Western Conference, the Blackhawks have struggled to consistently win against opponents outside the chase for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Columbus Blue Jackets, winners of four straight games, fall into that category.

They will also be Chicago's fourth straight non-contending opponent, with the Blackhawks losing two of the first three games in the stretch.

"It's just 82 games is a long season and you're not going to be perfect all year," forward Andrew Shaw said after Chicago's morning skate. "You can never take a team lightly, and I think sometimes we did that. We gave up a few points we didn't want to give up."

Posted On Tuesday, 03.17.2015 / 3:03 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 2014-2015 At the Rink blog

At the Rink: Islanders at Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The New York Islanders will be without goalie Jaroslav Halak when they face the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Tuesday.

Halak is day-to-day with a lower-body injury and did not make the trip. Goalie Kevin Poulin was recalled from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League on Tuesday under emergency conditions and will back up Michal Neuvirth.

New York is also without defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury and didn't make the trip. Defenseman Nick Leddy (upper body) skated but will miss his fourth straight game.

"We've got to get through this," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said after the morning skate. "We've got a lot of key guys out of our lineup, especially two defensemen and [Halak] now too. Just stay the course, fundamental hockey, that's all we can preach to our guys. Try to play the right way and give other guys an opportunity."

Posted On Sunday, 03.08.2015 / 3:28 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 2014-2015 At the Rink blog

At the Rink: Rangers at Blackhawks

CHICAGO – Bryan Bickell will watch the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers play at United Center on Sunday from a vantage point he doesn't enjoy.

The Blackhawks left wing will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season after scoring two goals and five points in the previous 20 games. Bickell, who's 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, is supposed to be a physical forward who bangs away around the net to score the so-called "dirty" goals off rebounds and screen goalies.

He also has a good shot and leads the Blackhawks in hits (166), but isn't doing enough of either for coach Joel Quenneville's liking. Asked after Chicago's optional morning skate Sunday why Bickell wasn't in the lineup, Quenneville didn't hesitate with his answer.

Posted On Friday, 03.06.2015 / 3:03 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 2014-2015 At the Rink blog

At the Rink: Oilers at Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks will be favored heavily when they step on the ice at United Center on Friday, which means they have to guard against letting their guard down.

The Edmonton Oilers, 29th in the NHL standings, are here for the third and final game between the teams this season. Chicago is third in the Central Division, four points behind the second-place St. Louis Blues.

It looks like a short putt, but the Blackhawks know better.

"There hasn't been a night this whole year where our team could come in here and say, 'Boy, that was an easy game, that was a lot of fun out there,'" left wing Patrick Sharp said after the morning skate. "Every game's been challenging. There's so many good coaches out there and teams are playing strong systems. We have a lot of respect for the Oilers and what they can do. They've beaten us pretty handily a few times in the past couple seasons and we know that."

Posted On Monday, 03.02.2015 / 2:46 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 2014-2015 At the Rink blog

At the Rink: Hurricanes at Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Just when it seemed like the Chicago Blackhawks were done with trades, general manager Stan Bowman struck again Monday to pad their depth down the middle.

Not long after the Blackhawks wrapped up their morning skate at United Center, preparing to play the Carolina Hurricanes, they traded fourth-line forward Ben Smith to the San Jose Sharks for fourth-line center Andrew Desjardins.

Smith, 26, has five goals and four assists in 61 games and has played on the fourth line nearly the entire season. He played in parts of five seasons in Chicago and had 23 goals and 16 assists in 156 games.

Smith had worked his way into a key role on the top penalty-kill unit, but Desjardins also has experience playing shorthanded. Desjardins is not expected to play against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, but Smith might play for the Sharks against the Montreal Canadiens.

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