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As sweep dust settles, Blackhawks answer tough questions

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Chicago Blackhawks watch as a goal by the Nashville Predators is reviewed during the third period in Game 4 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. The goal was ruled good. The Predators won 4-1 and swept the series. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

by Scott King

Blackhawks vice president and general manager Stan Bowman set the tone right away at the team’s devastatingly early end of the year press conference on Saturday morning.

“I’ll start off here by saying I’m completely, completely disappointed,” Bowman said. “It’s unacceptable to be standing where we are today. I’m frustrated, I’m angry. This was a tough, tough loss for us all to take.”

Bowman told the media Joel Quenneville will be back as the Blackhawks head coach next season, but other than that, there are no certainties as to who is and isn’t returning. “There will be change moving forward; change comes in many different ways.”

Bowman also vowed to “never let this happen again.”

“Our level of excitement, compete in the playoffs was concerning, surprising and disappointing,” Quenneville added.

The players shared the frustration and disappointment Bowman and Quenneville displayed off the bat.

“When you look at the way the playoffs went, it just seems like Nashville had more bite and more aggression,” veteran Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “I think in the playoffs you have to bring it. We didn’t answer. I know I could have played better, we all could have played better, but I think at the end of the day as a team, when you have that aggressiveness, and energy, and bite and pushback… It just seems like it wasn’t there.”

Hawks winger Patrick Kane noted why this year’s early exit feels worse than last year’s.

“It’s not a good situation to be in because even last year, we lost in Game 7 and it was a good series,” Kane said. “You still didn’t have this type of taste in your mouth after getting swept in the first round when you feel you have a chance to do some special things. No one’s happy. It’s been a quiet room the past few days. It’s a bitter taste.”

In dissecting what exactly went wrong, Kane knows that changes are coming next season.

“You can pick apart every little piece of the puzzle right now. You can say nothing went right in that last series. I think sometimes when things are negative, you try to look at the bright side and try to look at some special things we did do this season, but at the same time, like Stan (Bowman) said, I’m sure there’s going to have to be some moves made when you can’t get it done in the playoffs or don’t even come close. We’ll leave that up to the management.”

The forward also addressed one of the biggest reasons the Predators were able to stymie the Hawks – the neutral zone trap.

“They just kind of sat back. You’ve seen it with teams before like Tampa Bay, where they kind of sit back in that 1-3-1, you see Ottawa do it. I actually thought it was funny that Nashville was doing it because if you can remember a few years back when Tampa Bay was doing it, Philly was just holding onto the puck when Laviolette was the coach. They were trying to prove a point. It’s funny that that’s [the way] he had them going out to play against us.

“I think the biggest thing is you try to get speed through it, and if they sit back, they should be standing still, you should be able to chip pucks by them, but they flood that side of the ice. They just kind of sit back and wait for you to come at them. Joel had a good name for it, I think he called it ‘red rover.’

“A team like that I think you kind of hope they don’t win because I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best way to watch hockey games and actually have that excitement level. On the other level, they played good going the other way too. They kind of sat back, but their transition game is fast. They played with a lot of speed the other way. That gave us problems.”

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who was held to only one goal this postseason, and one in his last 13 playoff games, was asked if his health limited his ability to play vs. Nashville.

“It’s kind of one of those things I’m hitting on,” Toews said. “That I think at this point in my career, going through the last couple of years, looking at the way things have played out… Obviously there’s some little changes here and there with the way I approach my preparation, especially last summer being a long offseason, coming in feeling like I was as prepared as I could be and still maybe not getting to the level of play I wanted to throughout this season. Like I said, there’s some things I got to reevaluate there and think about this offseason.

“There’s no satisfaction there, but I’m definitely going to take a different approach to the way I prepare for next season. Obviously, I didn’t get to the level again that I needed to be [at] to help our team survive for a little bit longer this last playoff series. I have to be responsible for that as well and again, just look back and assess and see what you can change and do differently.”

Marian Hossa focused on the team taking accountability for the out of character elimination when addressing the media. “Everybody has to be better,” Hossa said. “Everybody has to look in the mirror. We have a long summer to get ready and be ready and prepared better for next year.”

Starting goaltender Corey Crawford was able to articulate his disappointment by describing the team’s expectations heading into the postseason.

“I think after such a great regular season, the expectations going into the playoffs were maybe as high as they’ve ever been going into that series,” Crawford said. “Everyone thought the best and it was the exact opposite.

“I think we’re missing what we had all year and it showed. It showed against a team that maybe played or had one of the best defensive efforts I’ve seen playing. They were all over the ice. It was a tough series to play in, especially when you expect so much. It was hard to end the season like that.”

Line Change?

Marian Hossa seemed to think he could have helped the Hawks more playing opposite Patrick Kane on the second line: “Like I said before, if the coach decides to put me on the third line to help the team, I don’t have a problem [doing] it. But I felt like this year was kind of a productive year for me, so maybe if I’m on the second line, I could maybe score a few more goals. But at the end of the day, it’s not a huge difference for me.”

Not 100%

Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov returned to the lineup for the playoffs after sitting since March 14 with a leg injury. “He was limited in some ways, as far as his quickness and his strength,” Quenneville said.

Coming Back?

Brian Campbell sounds to be leaving his hockey fate up to the Blackhawks organization:

“I’ll think about it. See how I feel. If I do play and come back, I don’t want to go anywhere at this point. I enjoy it here and it’s fun. There’s a lot of good times. Obviously, the playoffs weren’t fun. We’ll think about it and talk to the family and see and kind of go from there.”

Marian Hossa said he is planning on returning next season:

“Yeah, that’s the plan. Just train hard again this summer and get ready for next year.”

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