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Sopel, Hjalmarsson willing to sacrifice for good of team
By Mike Spellman | Daily Herald Staff

Chicago Blackhawks fans celebrate in the stands as center Patrick Sharp (10) skates to the bench after scoring his second goal of the game against the Nashville Predators in the second period of a first-round NHL Western Conference hockey playoff game on Thursday.;

 

Associated Press

Chicago Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), and Dustin Byfuglien, right, celebrate with goalie Antti Niemi (31) after the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 3-0 in a first-round NHL Western Conference hockey playoff game Thursday.

 

Associated Press

Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa (81) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), congratulate Patrick Sharp, right, after he scored against the Nashville Predators in the second period of a first-round NHL Western Conference hockey playoff game on Thursday.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 4/24/2010 12:01 AM

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As he stood in the path of Nashville defenseman Shea Weber and his 100 mph slap shot Thursday night during a 5-on-3 penalty kill, one thing popped into the head of Blackhawks defenseman Brent Sopel.

"Uh-oh," Sopel said with a grin the day after.

Uh-oh, indeed.

Weber went ahead and unleashed, but the 33-year-old Sopel stood his ground and blocked the laser, one of two blocks he was officially credited with on that shift before eventually making his way to the bench after a huge penalty kill in the Hawks' 3-0 victory.

For the veteran Sopel, blocking shots is just part of the j-o-b. In fact, it he's not limping off the ice after a shift, some joke that he wasn't doing his job.

"You look at his body and he's just black and blue and huge bruises all over the place," Hawks forward Troy Brouwer marveled.

After most games there's rarely a question as to who is going to be the sorest guy in the Hawks' locker room.

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure I am," said Sopel, who already has 14 blocks in four playoff games. "My age doesn't help the issue either.

"But if a puck hits me, it's obviously not going in the net. If we can knock those down it obviously gives us a better chance to do what we want to do."

Like kill off that crucial 5-on-3.

"You can sum him up in that one shift; he had three blocks on that shift and they only gave him two blocks for the whole game," Brouwer said. "A lot of fans like to see big hits or nice goals or big saves, but they don't realize the importance of blocked shots and what they mean."

And it's not just Sopel who has been sacrificing his body of late. Fellow defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson has 11 blocks in the series.

"He does his job every night," Sopel said. "He does it hard and he does it simple. He's been a great addition and has played great all year long."

And he has done it while nursing some aches of his own.

"Jelly (Hjalmarsson) has been playing with a hurt ankle for the better part of the season due to a blocked shot," Brouwer said. "He's laying down in front of shots when guys are coming down 2-on-2 and shooting from the outside.

"I don't know what it is with those two, but it seems like they thrive off that kind of stuff. It's like Red Bull for them."

The play of Sopel and Hjalmarsson on the penalty-killing unit has been a big reason why Nashville heads into Saturday's Game 5 at the United Center 0-for-17 on the power play.

"They're unbelievable," forward Tomas Kopecky said. "Their courage, sacrificing their bodies. It's huge, especially on the PK like (Thursday). Those are the little things you need to do to be successful in the playoffs.

"We have so much talent up front, to have those guys blocking shots like that is unbelievable."