Blackhawks reclaim Central Division with win over Capitals


Blackhawks reclaim Central Division with win over Capitals

When the Blackhawks acquired three forwards in two days, they were looking for a boost in several positions.

They wanted a stronger top-line option. They wanted help on the third and fourth lines. And while they’re still missing some personnel, including one of the players they traded for, they liked their first look with those changes.

Patrick Kane scored his 36th goal of the season and Dennis Rasmussen scored the game winner as the Blackhawks held off the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Sunday afternoon. The victory gives the Blackhawks 83 points and puts them back into first in the Central Division. Dallas, which is idle today, is second with 82 points.

Corey Crawford stopped 28 of 30 for the victory. Jonathan Toews scored a power-play goal and Andrew Ladd, in his first game back with the Blackhawks, added the secondary assist on Toews’ goal.

The Blackhawks wanted to bolster their lineup with recent acquisitions Ladd, Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, who has not arrived intown yet (visa issues). Ladd was on the top line with Toews and Andrew Shaw while Fleischmann settled in with Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Desjardins. The changes did the Blackhawks good: they had as strong a four-line rotation as they have had all season against the league’s best team.

“You could see a couple of lines had a different look. That line with Flash or Fleisch, or whatever you want to call him — I think they call him Flash — and Desi and Teuvo was very effective in a lot of ways," said coach Joel Quenneville. "Laddy gives you some energy and they’ll get better. The second and third periods you could see him getting a little more comfortable and was effective as well. We still have a couple of guys who are missing who can help us, too.”

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Those guys would be Weise, Marian Hossa (lower body) and Marcus Kruger (wrist). But let’s focus on today, which was a good day for the Blackhawks — well, once the first period was over, anyway. The Capitals were stellar in the first period, looking faster and stronger than the Blackhawks, who barely had any time in the Capitals’ zone. Marcus Johnansson gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal 6:13 into the game. For all the Capitals’ first-period dominance, however, it wouldn’t show on the scoreboard. Just 31 seconds after Johansson’s goal, Kane scored to tie it 1-1.

From the second period on the Blackhawks looked more like themselves. Toews scored his power-play goal to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 1:45 remaining in the second period. Then Richard Panik’s kick pass, which Quenneville called, “one of the best passes we’ve seen all year,” went in the slot to a wide-open Rasmussen, who scored to make it 3-1. It was Rasmussen’s first goal since Dec. 19.

“Yeah, it’s been a while. I try to work hard and create chances but it was really nice to get that goal,” said Rasmussen. “It was a really nice pass. I saw [Panik] had the puck under his skate and I kind of realized he was going to make that play. I’ve seen it done before in practice.”

The Blackhawks were looking for more balance and more of a scoring threat among all four of their lines. Some of their recent acquisitions have already helped in that department. Sure, it was just one game. But it was one game against the league’s best team.

“It felt like a playoff game right from the start,” Crawford said. “I thought we got better as the game went on. They were pretty quick. They got some momentum early but I think with the new guys in the lineup, it seemed like the chemistry kept building throughout the game on the lines they were on.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."