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Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville stands behind center Jonathan Toews (L), Bryan Bickell (C) and Sean O'Donnell (R) as they look up at the clock in the final seconds of their season loss to the Phoenix Coyotes during Game 6 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final hockey playoffs in Chicago, Illinois April 23, 2012. REUTERS/Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville stands behind center Jonathan Toews (L), Bryan Bickell (C) and Sean O'Donnell (R) as they look up at the clock in the final seconds of their season loss to the Phoenix Coyotes during Game 6 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final hockey playoffs in Chicago, Illinois April 23, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young (Jim Young/Reuters)
Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville stands behind center Jonathan Toews (L), Bryan Bickell (C) and Sean O'Donnell (R) as they look up at the clock in the final seconds of their season loss to the Phoenix Coyotes during Game 6 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final hockey playoffs in Chicago, Illinois April 23, 2012. REUTERS/Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville stands behind center Jonathan Toews (L), Bryan Bickell (C) and Sean O'Donnell (R) as they look up at the clock in the final seconds of their season loss to the Phoenix Coyotes during Game 6 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final hockey playoffs in Chicago, Illinois April 23, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young (Jim Young/Reuters)

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CHICAGO’S NEXT STEP

The Chicago Blackhawks are an interesting case study, heading into the off-season, because they’ve followed their 2010 Stanley Cup win, with two consecutive years in which they’ve squeaked into the playoffs and then bowed out in the opening round. Lots of teams would accept a 101-point regular season, which Chicago had, especially in the light of injuries to Jonathan Toews (down the stretch) and Marian Hossa (in the playoffs). Funny how it goes around. The Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith probably did more to undermine Vancouver’s playoffs hopes by concussing Daniel Sedin just before the playoffs and Chicago’s depth was sorely tested when Hossa was clobbered by Raffi Torres on a very similar sort of play. But for all that, coach Joel Quenneville put the problem down as chemistry, in his postseason remarks to reporters: “Every year is a different sort of mix and team chemistry is something going forward that should be a concern, a priority.” It would suggest that the Blackhawks won’t make goalie Corey Crawford the fall guy for the season, but that they need to add some bulk on the lower lines. Maybe the loss of Daniel Carcillo early was more of a blow than they could imagine.

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KANE’S TREND DOWNWARD

It would be hard to imagine Patrick Kane playing somewhere other than in a Blackhawks’ uniform, given how the organization has made both him and Jonathan Toews the centrepiece of its marketing program. Kane has had an up-and-down time of it since scoring the winning goal in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the spring of 2010. That goal capped a 28-point playoff, which followed an 88-point regular season, all at the age of 21. The sky seemed the limit. But last year, he slipped to just 73 points and this year, he was down again – to 66. Kane suggested his slow start was the result of off-season wrist surgery (and gave that as a reason for why he declined to play for Team USA at the world championship). Kane played all three forward positions for the Blackhawks and had two separate turns at centre, one before Toews’s injury, once after. Kane largely struggled in the faceoff circle, but otherwise, playing centre seems like a natural fit for someone of his puck-handling abilities. He apparently is amendable to playing there again next season; and if that’s the way the Blackhawks go, it would make life easier for general manager Stan Bowman, since about half the league is searching for centres who can play on the top two lines and they’re really aren’t a whole lot of them available on the open market.

WHY STUART WANTS OUT

There have been hints, all season long, that defenceman Brad Stuart would likely part ways with the Detroit Red Wings once his contract expires in July, not for professional, but for personal reasons. For the past four years, while Stuart has played in Detroit, his wife and children have stayed behind in California. It’s not a situation he wants to see continue. The question will be, is there a landing place for him among the three California teams? He has already played for the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, so that would suggest the Anaheim Ducks might be at the top of the list, a team that has two excellent young rearguards (Cam Fowler, Luca Sbisa) that might benefit from having someone with Stuart’s experience and pedigree. The Ducks are also committed to veterans Lubomir Visnovsky and François Beauchemin, so they some depth there and it may well be a dollars issue. Once the Los Angeles Kings finish the season, they’ll need to assess whether Stuart – who played for Darryl Sutter years ago in San Jose, might be a fit, too. “I love it here,” Stuart said to the Macomb Daily. “If it was a purely hockey decision, I would stay. But I’ve got other things to consider and factors other than just hockey. Those are things I guess I’ll have to figure out in the next month and a half.”

HEALTHY FLYERS

While three of the four Eastern Conference playoff series went right down to the wire, the Philadelphia Flyers were essentially enjoying a week off, getting the usual number of yucks from goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, but mostly, allowing their injured players to heal and get ready for the second round. A lot of the batter bruised among them, including Daniel Brière and Jaromir Jagr, skipped practices, while a couple of injured defencemen, Nicklas Grossman and Andrej Meszaros, inched closer to a return. Grossman played four of six games against the Pittsburgh Penguins; Meszaros has yet to be activated for these playoffs after back surgery in March. Up front, a key ingredient could be James van Riemsdyk, who played minimally (7:08) in two games after returning to the lineup from a broken foot. Van Riemsdyk had a difficult injury-filled year (a concussion sidelined him early, limiting him to 24 points in 43 games, not the sort of production the Flyers imagined after van Riemsdyk broke through last spring with seven goals in 11 playoff games. Nothing can salvage a mediocre regular season like a quality postseason, and van Riemsdyk will get that chance – likely on a line with Matt Read and Jakob Voracek – starting in the second round.

BY THE NUMBERS

7

One-goal decisions in the Washington Capitals’ opening-round victory over the Boston Bruins, the first time in NHL history every game in a series that went the distance was decided by a single goal.

1

Years remaining on Tim Thomas’s four-year, $20-million contract with the Boston Bruins. Because the contract was backloaded, the actual dollar value in the final year is only $3-million, though the annual salary-cap charge is $5-million, which could make him a short-term bargain, if the Bruins decide to make a change in goal.

THEY SAID IT

“I thought if we could get past this first-round hurdle, that we could pick up some energy and momentum. I mean, I had the picture in my head of holding the Cup again this year.”

~ Tim Thomas

The Boston Bruins goalie ponders what might have been, had Boston pulled another Game 7 overtime rabbit out of the hat, as they did in the opening round against the Montreal Canadiens last year.

“To be honest with you, I could care less if they win or lose. Some guys on that team I played with, I’ll always consider friends. But whether they win or not, it means nothing to me.”

~Jack Johnson

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ defenceman says he has severed all ties, emotional and otherwise, with his former team, the Los Angeles Kings.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

First Patrick Kane out. Now Tim Thomas. There can only be one answer: The Curse of Peggy. #bruins #whatsinyourwallet #curseofpeggy

@alanrobinson22

Like a lot of hockey fans, Alan Robinson probably saw that television commercial one too many times this postseason.

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