Blackhawks

Erik Gustafsson getting big opportunity with Blackhawks

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Erik Gustafsson getting big opportunity with Blackhawks

When Erik Gustafsson was sent back to Rockford in mid-November, he knew he was in good standing with the Blackhawks.

He had showed great calm, defense and passing in his first stint in Chicago. Gustafsson impressed the Blackhawks, so there was no doubt they saw him in their future plans. Now it looks like Gustafsson’s not only part of the Blackhawks again, but could be a very big part of their defense moving forward.

Gustafsson, recalled by the Blackhawks on Dec. 28, looks to be getting more of a role with the team this time. When asked last week if Gustafsson could be an every-game player, coach Joel Quenneville said, “we’ll give him a shot.” Gustafsson played the last two games — the Blackhawks rotated veterans Michal Rozsival and Rob Scuderi in and out of the lineup — and was paired with Brent Seabrook for part of the game against Colorado.

The Blackhawks have liked what Gustafsson has done in both stints.

[MORE HAWKS: Patrick Kane named NHL All-Star Game captain]

“He made a real good impression initially with us, going back [to Rockford] and playing well, continuing to progress in his game. We think he can help us in a lot of ways,” Quenneville said. “He’s gotten significant minutes as he’s progressed but the two games you noticed him on the ice with his involvement, his play with the puck, with his gap and joining the rush as well as defending. That’s where we can make some progression. Offensively he adds a nice component to the back end.”

As for that pairing with Seabrook, Quenneville said, “we liked that tandem and hopefully there’s something there.”

Gustafsson didn’t sweat his reassignment in November. It was more of a numbers game than anything: Duncan Keith and Rozsival were coming off long-term injured reserve, leaving the Blackhawks with a glut of defensemen. But Gustafsson got good reviews from Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman.

“They said good stuff about my game up here,” Gustafsson said. “They just told me I had to play a lot of minutes in Rockford, stay positive and work as hard as I could down there. I think I did that down there, tried to show them every day that I can come up again if someone’s hurt or anything.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“Anything” came at the end of December, when David Rundblad was placed on waivers. Whether the trust wasn’t there or if there was another reason, Rundblad didn’t crack the lineup much. So in came Gustafsson, who has also gotten time on the power play. That says a lot.

“You don’t put D on the power play if the coaches don’t trust you,” Gustafsson said. “I’m just glad to get the opportunity to play there. I hope the coaches trust me when they see me out there. I just want to show they can trust me.”

The Blackhawks have liked what they’ve seen from Gustafsson from the start. Earlier this season he didn’t fit due to numbers, both roster and salary cap. Now he does, and he’s fitting in with every situation he’s been given.

“There aren’t a lot of guys who get called up twice in their first year, so I’m glad to get the opportunity and glad to get the second callback,” Gustafsson said. “I’m just glad to be out there, to help the team as much as I can. I hope they see that, too.”

Blackhawks release statement following incident that happened during game vs. Capitals

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AP

Blackhawks release statement following incident that happened during game vs. Capitals

Four fans at the United Center were thrown out of Saturday's Blackhawks game for taunting Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly with racist remarks.

Midway through the third period, Smith-Pelly, who is black, was in the penalty box when fans shouted "basketball, basketball, basketball" at him, the Washington Post reported.

Here is a GIF of Smith-Pelly's interaction with the fans:

After the game, the Blackhawks released this statement:

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz also had this to say about the incident:

Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak

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USA TODAY

Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak

Win one game.

That was Joel Quenneville’s message during the Blackhawks’ eight-game losing streak, which finally came to an end on Saturday night.

How about a 7-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on home ice for a streak-breaker? Now that’s more like it.

Prior to Saturday, the Blackhawks hadn’t recorded a win in February — or a win at the United Center since Jan. 12. 

Though the Blackhawks will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were rookies, a blowout win over the leaders of the Metropolitan Division Capitals had to have felt great.

"It’s a nice way to get over the hump," Toews said. "Sometimes you might just win a 2-1 game or just kind of grind it out, but it was nice for us to fill the net the way we did tonight."

Added Joel Quenneville, "Certainly feels 100 times better than coming in and trying to explain how we had a lead and were unable to sustain it. The complete 60 minutes, three periods the right way, more consistency in our game, way more pace than we’ve seen recently, composure with the puck, shooting around the net. It was fun but that’s one. Let’s see how we respond to this because there’s a lot of hockey left."

The Blackhawks are 25-26-8 with 58 points, and are 11 points out the final wild card spot, currently held by the Minnesota Wild.

Among the highlights:

— Seven different Blackhawks scored: Toews, Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Artem Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman

— The Blackhawks are 74-6-4 in the regular season in which Kane and Toews both record a goal — and 41-0-0 in their last 41 games, according to NBC Sports Chicago stats guru Chris Kamka.

— Kane registered career assist No. 500, becoming the sixth Blackhawk with 500 or more. Kane is also the seventh U.S.-born player with 300-plus goals and 500-plus assists, joining Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Pat LaFontaine, Joe Mullen and Phil Housley, according to Kamka.

"You think about the amount of great Americans that have played the game, how many players actually play hockey in the United States... Growing up all I wanted to do was play hockey," Kane said. "That means a lot, especially when you talk about American-born players."

— DeBrincat's 22nd goal of the season has him tied for the rookie-lead with Tampa Bay Lightning's Yanni Gourde. DeBrincat and Kane also lead the Blackhawks with 22 goals.