Blackhawks

Star struck: Blackhawks allow four first-period goals in pummeling

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Star struck: Blackhawks allow four first-period goals in pummeling

Coach Joel Quenneville expected this one to be different.

The previous four Blackhawks-Dallas Stars matchups have been wide open, with the Stars winning three of them easily. This time, Quenneville was looking for a close checking game.

“I expect that kind of game tonight start to finish,” he said.

He didn’t get it.

Vernon Fiddler scored two goals as the Stars handed the Blackhawks another lopsided loss, this one 6-2 at the United Center. The Stars, who remain atop the Central Division with 97 points, clinched a playoff berth.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Five Things: Blackhawks get in another 4-0 hole vs. Stars]

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are winless in six of their last seven. They remain in third in the Central Division, at least for now, with 91 points; Nashville, however, is pushing hard and sits in fourth with 87 points.

The frustration is mounting a bit.

“You can’t blame it on bad luck; you just need to work through some of these games we’re not getting the bounces. You have to work and earn the bounces,” Jonathan Toews said. “We didn’t do that early, again we go down 4-0 — feel like we’ve done that a bunch of times against this team, even at home — it’s going to be an uphill battle trying to get back into the game. And once again that’s what we saw tonight.”

Andrew Shaw and Richard Panik each scored his second goal in as many games. But those were about the only bright spots in an otherwise forgettable game for the Blackhawks.

All seemed fine until about 11 and a half minutes in, when Colton Sceviour scored from behind the net, his shot going off Scott Darling’s stick. Just 25 seconds after that Sceviour, once again behind the net, fed Fiddler in front of it for a 2-0 lead. Despite those bang-bang goals, Patrick Kane said the Blackhawks shouldn’t have gotten down.

“I mean there’s still a lot of game left,” he said. “But you take a penalty and they score on the power play, you get a power play thinking you’ll get one back and I made a bad play at the blue line there and they get a breakaway. Next thing you know they’re up 4-0 again in this building, and it seems like it’s the same game that was here last time. Obviously it’s not the first period we wanted.”

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No, it wasn’t. And with two more goals later in the period — Patrick Eaves’ power-play goal and Fiddler’s short-handed goal — the Stars were up 4-0 after the first. The Blackhawks skated to the locker room as the United Center crowd booed.

“Halfway through, after one ... basically we’re done early in the game and it’s hard to tell on how to measure,” Quenneville said. “We have two pucks behind our goal line end up in the net, too easy to give up two quick goals like that. Then we make a mistake on our (penalty kill), then it’s a shorty and it was just hard to watch.”

It didn’t get better through the second and third periods, either. Michael Leighton came in to relieve Darling to start the second. Leighton stopped 16 of 17, but the Blackhawks never really got anything going.

What looked like they were hiccups earlier this season have turned into major struggles for the Blackhawks now. They look shaken and their spot among the Central Division’s top three is tenuous. There is still time to turn it around, but the Blackhawks have to respond sooner rather than later.

“We have three days here to regroup,” Kane said. “Maybe it’s what we need right now: get a little time away from games and try to regroup and know what we’re going to do going into the next little road trip here.”

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

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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

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USA TODAY

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."