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Quenneville: Blackhawks not hitting panic button yet

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- They've lost three straight games and five of the first seven during an eight-game homestand, but the Chicago Blackhawks haven't hit the proverbial panic button.

Asked after practice on Monday if the Blackhawks had started to panic a little with 22 games left, coach Joel Quenneville quipped, "No, but the 'Get Attention' button is where I'm at."

His answer was met with a tongue-in-cheek follow up question, and it provided a good assessment of Quenneville's outlook at the moment.

"Do you have one of those?" a reporter said.

"Absolutely," Quenneville replied, jabbing his index finger in front of him. "I got it pushed."

Chicago's front office appears to be right there with him. Following a 6-2 loss to the struggling Boston Bruins on Sunday, the Blackhawks made a couple transactions that resonated a day later. They sent backup goalie Antti Raanta and rookie forward Ryan Hartman to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League and recalled forward Joakim Nordstrom and rookie goalie Scott Darling.

A couple hours after that news broke, the Blackhawks announced they'd signed Darling, 26, to a two-year contract extension. Raanta, 25, signed a two-year extension last offseason that reportedly gave him an affordable $750,000 charge against the NHL salary cap. The thinking was he'd back up Corey Crawford for at least two seasons, but that was before Darling made a name for himself.

Darling, who is 6-foot-6, will start against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday to conclude the season-long homestand. Quenneville said the demotions of Hartman and Raanta were related to performance, along with giving Darling another look. General manager Stan Bowman didn't meet with reporters.

"When we saw him earlier in the year, we felt he's going to get an opportunity at some point this year," Quenneville said. "You're looking at timing and when's a good spot. We felt that the opportunity for him to come in here [Tuesday] to get a chance to play is part of it."

Raanta went 7-4-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in 14 games for the Blackhawks, including a relief appearance Sunday in which he allowed two goals on 16 shots.

Darling shined in seven games with the Blackhawks earlier this season. While filling in for Crawford during two injury stints, he went 5-2-0 with a 1.97 GAA and .937 save percentage. He had strong numbers for Rockford during 26 AHL games.

"I'm just super excited to be here," said Darling, who grew up a Blackhawks fan in the suburb of Lemont, Ill. "It's a huge honor to get a contract with a team like the Chicago Blackhawks. I couldn't be happier."

Darling joined practice Monday, which wasn't one of Quenneville's usual workouts. Quenneville doesn't really believe in the typical bag skates that coaches sometimes use to punish a team. His version is a practice filled with battle drills in the corners, in which the net is moved to a corner and players battle each other for puck possession either 1-on-1 or 2-on-2.

"I think it's all part of the season," Quenneville said. "You deal with ups and downs, and you know … who knows, with a good performance [Sunday], it could've been a day off today. It's all part of it, knowing when to push and shove, but we need more of that in our team game."

They're going to need a defenseman to step up as well. Quenneville said veteran Johnny Oduya could miss a couple weeks with an undisclosed upper-body injury that occurred sometime during his first shift against the Bruins.

Chicago has sprinkled a number of young defensemen into the lineup since rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk went down with a fractured patella in November. The younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk is nearing a return, but until he does it will be up to David Rundblad, Kyle Cumiskey or Tim Erixon to fill in for Oduya.

The previous two losses featured a three-goal third period for the Colorado Avalanche and a four-goal second for the Bruins.

Quenneville didn't sound optimistic when asked if Oduya's injury situation changed the Blackhawks' outlook on trades as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches March 2.

"Nah, I don't know if that's part of the equation at all," he said.

What is part of the equation is doing more to stack points in the standings during their remaining games. The St. Louis Blues (75 points) are still within reach for second in the Central Division, while the Winnipeg Jets (71 points) and Minnesota Wild (68 points) are creeping up from behind.

"I don't think we like the term panic button around here," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, who is taking criticism for only scoring 10 goals in 45 games, including three at even strength. "It's a team that has a bunch of veteran players. Even our younger players have played in some big games and some big situations before. There are a lot of ups and downs throughout a season, but we're definitely concerned and we know we can play better and want to play better starting [Tuesday]."

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