Blackhawks: Can Versteeg-Kane-Richards line work again?


Blackhawks: Can Versteeg-Kane-Richards line work again?

The first sight was somewhat of a surprise. We all figured Patrick Kane would be back sooner rather than later, given the constant updates of his steady progress.

The second sight, considering the first one, wasn’t all that shocking either: with a healthy Kane ready to go, it was time to put him back with Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards. It worked once. Now they’ll see if it works again.

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Versteeg, Kane and Richards made a great combination in mid-November/early December, when the Blackhawks went on an eight-game winning streak. They’ll be together again on Wednesday when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

The three were put together just as the Blackhawks embarked on their Circus Trip. That line was a catalyst for the team’s success at that point. When Kane was injured on Feb. 24, the Blackhawks lost their leading scorer and coach Joel Quenneville lost the chance to put that group together again as the season ended. So they’ll try it again now.

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“I obviously really enjoyed playing with him and it’s too bad the year he was having to see that happen to him. I wish we could’ve kept that going and learned more about each other. But that’s hockey, that’s our job,” Richards said. “Hopefully we can get to a better level [this time].”

But why did it work so well the first time?

“Obviously Kaner is on a different level, but we all think the game similar and play the game the same way,” Versteeg said. “That’s how we can all kind of complement each other.”

Relationships don’t hurt, either. Kane and Versteeg have been friends dating back to Versteeg’s first go-around with the Blackhawks. Richards and Kane formed a rapport early on this season, partially thanks to living in the same building.

But there’s something else: when these three were clicking, they were holding onto the puck plenty. Credit Kane for a lot of that; his talent for that was evident during his injury, when the Blackhawks’ puck-possession game diminished.

“I think we were smart with it and knew the times to do it; we had the puck a lot,” Richards said. “We’re not three big monsters where we’re going to come in and put you through the end boards, so you want to have the puck and made it hard on the other team that way. But playoffs is a different game, where you’ve got to be a lot smarter sometimes, and sometimes you do have to give up the puck and live to fight another day. But all three of us have been through playoffs enough to know that.”

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A trio that got the Blackhawks going earlier this season is together again, potentially getting them going early in the playoffs. It worked once. The Blackhawks hope it can work again.

“Yeah, we had some good success,” Kane said. “It seems like both of them are skating really well and it seems like they have a newfound energy come with this new postseason coming around. Wherever they put me in the lineup,I’ll be happy. But knowing we had some success earlier in the season, hopefully we can recapture that.” 

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?