Blackhawks fortunes will be telling for Team Canada’s 2014 Olympic prospects
From goaltender Crawford to blueliners Seabrook and Keith, and on out to captain Toews, the Sochi selectors will have plenty to ponder
Both Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook (right) and goalie Corey Crawford (left), shown at the conclusion of the Hawks’ first-series win over the visiting Minnesota Wild, have to be considered in the mix for Team Canada at next year’s Winter Olympics. A stern first test, though, will be how they deal with potential elimination by the Detroit Red Wings in this spring’s NHL playoffs.
Photograph by: Bill Smith, NHLI via Getty Images files
DETROIT — In the heat of the Stanley Cup playoffs, it is dangerous to look past the next shift. The next game is probably too big a picture to ponder.
Seven months into the future? That’s for dreamers, pundits and non-participants — and a conversation no one who is still chasing Stanley wants to have.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” said Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook, as Game 6 of their series with the Detroit Red Wings looms tonight at Joe Louis Arena (5 p.m. Pacific time, CBC).
But those futures are being shaped, nonetheless, by what happens in the National Hockey League post-season.
Seven months from now, the Olympic teams will be named for Sochi 2014. The Canadian goaltending situation which has degenerated into such a dog’s breakfast will have to be resolved by then, and Chicago’s Corey Crawford is the only Canadian left standing in the tournament.
How he plays, how far the Blackhawks go on his shoulders, is certain to carry some weight with selectors who, at the moment, see only that all of their projected candidates of a year ago have crashed out — and some may never be back.
Crawford was not even on the radar a year ago. He’s there now 50 per cent on merit and 50 per cent by default.
“He’s been good for us all year. It’s a tough league to get into, but he definitely could be in the running,” said Seabrook, who paired with his Chicago partner, Duncan Keith, on the Team Canada blue line in Vancouver.
“I think (Crawford’s) coming-out party was against Vancouver a couple of years ago — we were down 3-0 and he was huge. He was a big part of why we got back into it. He plays hard at the right times and seems to make the big stops.”
The door is wide open now.
The 2010 Olympic troika is in shambles. Martin Brodeur is 41. He gave way by the end to Roberto Luongo, who is 34 and not even his own team’s starting goaltender any more — and evidently untradeable. Canada’s No. 3, Marc-Andre Fleury, has washed out totally in the past two playoff seasons, and has been replaced in the Pittsburgh net by Tomas Vokoun.
That leaves Crawford, St. Louis’s Brian Elliott, Phoenix’s Mike Smith, Montreal’s Carey Price, Carolina’s Cam Ward ... and a sepia-toned photo of Patrick Roy.
And yes, as Seabrook notes, it’s far too early to project what might transpire in the first three months of next season, when the shadow roster becomes reality.
His own situation is a case in point.
Relegated from his spot alongside Keith to the third pairing early in this series, with ice time commensurate with a No. 5 or No. 6 defenceman, Seabrook was reunited with Keith in Game 5, when the Blackhawks desperately needed to snap out of their funk, and he responded with a tremendous game, both physically and on the power play.
“He’s a good teammate, a good guy and I’ve played with him a long time,” said Keith, of the two old partners getting back together. “He played well coming off not playing very much. It’s tough to do that, not only physically but mentally. He did a good job. Lot of good shots, lot of big hits. For us to win, we need him.”
Seabrook’s demotion was the first time since very early in his career that he’d had his minutes cut back radically.
“It’s different,” he said Monday. “When you are playing all the time, you get into a rhythm, and when you’re sitting on the bench, there’s more time to think and what-not.
“I felt like I did a good job of forgetting about it and getting ready for the next shift. Obviously when it first happened, it wasn’t the easiest thing to deal with, but I worked at it and tried to get better at it.”
He didn’t have to be told he was struggling.
“I wasn’t happy with my game from the start of the series, and even going back to Minnesota (in the first round),” he said.
“I don’t know if I got a lot of criticism. I didn’t really hear it. I was just pissed off at myself first and foremost. I know I have to be better.
“I’ve always had a lot of responsibility and played in key situations and been against their team’s top line and felt I did a good job over the years. I took pride in it. That was my job.
“Toewser scores goals. Kaner makes passes and scores goals. I’m the shut-down guy, physical guy who made it tough on team’s top players. That’s the role I love and take pride in.”
The Blackhawks, down to their last life against the Red Wings, need all hands on deck to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in.
Seabrook’s are big pair of mitts, and if the Hawks manage to come back, he and Keith will be part of the story, and so will Crawford, and so will Jonathan Toews, and Steve Yzerman and his Olympic selectors will have a little more data to put in the file.
That’s well down the list of things to be thinking about on the day of an elimination game, Seabrook said.
“I don’t think they’re picking the Olympic team in the playoffs. You could score 30 points and win the Conn Smythe Trophy, but if you’re minus-60 in the first few months of next season, you’re not going to make it,” he said.
“There’s one lock on the team, and it’s the best player in the world. Other than that ...”
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