Young Blackhawks learning mental toughness on the fly
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ryan Hartman was a teenage Blackhawks fan when Patrick Kane tied Game 5 against the Nashville Predators with a short-handed goal in the last minute in 2010.
Nick Schmaltz was a member of the Green Bay Gamblers of the U.S. Hockey League when the Hawks rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings in 2013.
Dennis Rasmussen was in Sweden when the Hawks dropped the first two games of a series against the St. Louis Blues in the first round in 2014.
For all the talk about how tested and experienced the Hawks are, how they’ve been in every situation imaginable, that’s only the case for about half the team. Hartman, Schmaltz, Rasmussen and Tanner Kero are in their first NHL postseason, and second-year pros Artemi Panarin and Richard Panik never have won a playoff series with the Hawks.
Not everybody has been through everything. Some haven’t been through anything. But that doesn’t mean the new guys are freaking out, either.
‘‘Obviously, we’re down 2-0, but we’ve still got to take it game by game,’’ Rasmussen said before Game 3 on Monday against the Predators. ‘‘A lot of guys have played in the playoffs in different leagues and different situations and played in important games. So we all know it doesn’t matter if you have a lead or you’re down, you’ve got to take it game by game.’’
That ability to stay on an even keel, no matter what the series looks like, has been a hallmark of the Hawks under coach Joel Quenneville. The younger guys might not have the Stanley Cup experience to draw on, but the calmness and poise of the veterans do rub off. Duncan Keith’s not exactly standing in the middle of the dressing room and giving a speech about how it’s not over yet, but he doesn’t have to.
‘‘Just from watching them in the past, you know that there’s that even keel, that there’s not panic,’’ Hartman said. ‘‘And you can sense in this room that there’s a lot of confidence. There’s a lot of positive vibes going around about [how] we’ve been great on the road all year.’’
The step up in speed, intensity and physical play in the playoffs is a big one, and some have handled it better than others. John Hayden found himself out of the lineup after Game 1. Schmaltz basically was benched for much of Game 1, then demoted, before finding his way back to the top line in Game 2 (and again for Game 3). Hartman looked good in the first game but let his emotions get the better of him late in Game 2, delivering a cross-check to Craig Smith’s head and earning a 10-minute misconduct. Kero has been solid in the bottom six and even during a surprise stint on the top line in Game 1.
Asked about the young players before Game 3, Quenneville used a broader brush.
‘‘We can’t be satisfied in saying much positive about where we’re at,’’ he said. ‘‘Let’s start fresh and let’s change everything.’’
Two games isn’t much. But at least the young Hawks have a feel for the playoffs now. Captain Jonathan Toews said that can go a long way.
‘‘Everyone learns to deal with it, and I think the young guys, too, are just maybe getting their feet under them and understanding that now we can be loose,’’ Toews said. ‘‘[Now] we can go out there and play the way we know we can play and try to put the pressure on [the Predators] in their building.’’
NOTE: Winger Jordin Tootoo was back in the lineup for Game 3 in place of Vinnie Hinostroza.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.