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updated: 4/29/2014 8:56 PM

Blackhawks not afraid to get physical

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  • Brandon Saad, here delivering a check to the Blues' Adam Cracknell, and the Blackhawks know the importance of playing physical hockey.

      Brandon Saad, here delivering a check to the Blues' Adam Cracknell, and the Blackhawks know the importance of playing physical hockey.
    Associated Press

 
 

Having won two Stanley Cups in a span of four seasons, most NHL teams are past trying to intimidate the Blackhawks.

But it doesn't mean they'll stop trying to pound on them.

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That's the nature of hockey. Bigger teams beat on smaller teams. Heavy teams that can't skate with finesse teams will try to slow the game down with a punishing style.

It has its merits. Even if the Hawks aren't scared, it doesn't mean they're immune to the results. Hitting takes a toll, causes injury and wears teams out. Some players start looking for the hit instead of the puck.

And that's why the Hawks like finishing their checks, too.

"You can gain momentum off a great hit," said Duncan Keith. "This is the playoffs. Obviously, you need to be physical.

"Our team game is based on speed and skill. I don't think we get intimidated, but at the same time you have to take advantage of opportunities to hit when they're there."

Though "hitting" has become a dirty word in Gary Bettman's NHL, there's not a coach or player in hockey who doesn't comprehend its value -- even if it often escapes the understanding of some fans and media new to the game.

"I think we're comfortable playing any style of play," said Patrick Sharp. "It was a tough series against the Blues. Hard fought start to finish.

"The fact that we can hang in there and dish out some big hits and physical play ourselves, and come out on top, is a good feeling going forward."

While they didn't amass the Blues' staggering 41.33 hits per game, the Hawks averaged 23.8 against St. Louis, up from 16.7 in the regular season.

"Yeah, it was good," said Bryan Bickell, who's third in the NHL with 35 postseason hits. "Being physical is part of my job. That's a very physical (St. Louis) team, and I needed to bring out my physicality to help out my linemates and cause turnovers.

"It gives me confidence. It's playoff time. Playoffs are more physical than the regular season. I love it."

Of course, it doesn't mean the Hawks deliver a hit at the expense of possessing the puck or making a play at either end of the ice, or even in the neutral zone.

They also don't want to take bad penalties. As good as their penalty kill is right now, that's playing with fire, and the Hawks know they need to cut down on their infractions.

But part of hockey is getting the opposing skater wondering about a hit, and it makes them think twice about possessing the puck.

"That's hockey," Bickell said. "We just have to play our game. We bang when we have to, but we're a speed team. If they can't hit us, we won't get hit."

Postseason hockey is not for the faint of heart, a notion hardly lost on new Calgary GM Brad Treliving.

"We need to get bigger," Treliving said Monday, immediately after getting the job. "That's not just a personal preference. Turn on the TV today and watch the games.

"This is about winning a championship … and you look at the games that are being played right now and it's hard hockey. It's heavy hockey. It's a man's game, a big boy's game out there."

New Carolina GM Ron Francis won the Lady Byng three times during his Hall of Fame career, but upon taking over the Canes on Monday, he said, "I want players who are smart, players who are skilled, players who absolutely love to compete. All things being equal, I would prefer a bigger player."

The Hawks don't seem to care how big their opponent is, and they know they won't have a tougher series physically from this point forward. Sure, there are several teams in the West who hit like St. Louis, but it can't be any worse than what they've just been through.

"The Blues are a tough team, physical team. Lot of intensity and emotion in this series, and it's healthy for our team to go through that," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. "We had to be good. That's a good hockey team. They play hard, play the right way."

There's a lot of mutual respect there, and Quenneville is well aware that his team dodged a bullet while playing through a lack of urgency early in the series.

"That's a tough first-round matchup. No easy games, no easy shifts," he said. "We just went through six tough battles and we're fortunate to advance."

Quenneville gave the boys a couple days off and they'll get back to work Wednesday.

"Something we talked about going into the third period (Sunday) was we can get a couple days off with a good 20 minutes," Keith said. "This time of year, it's pretty nice to get some rest."

They earned it.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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