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Tanner Kero's scoring touch could help Blackhawks

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Tanner Kero's scoring touch could help Blackhawks

Tanner Kero’s professional hockey career couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start.

The Michigan Tech alum has shown his scoring touch, recording a goal in five of his first six games with the Rockford IceHogs. Now Kero will see if that continues with the big club, which could definitely use more offense.

Kero was recalled by the Blackhawks on Tuesday and is expected to make his NHL debut on Thursday night, when the Blackhawks face the Winnipeg Jets. He was one of two Blackhawks call-ups these last two days; defenseman Erik Gustafsson was recalled on Wednesday morning, and while he practiced with the team it doesn’t look like he will play on Thursday.

The 23-year-old Kero centered the third line at Wednesday’s practice; Teuvo Teravainen was on the left and Ryan Garbutt on the right. Kero’s excited for the opportunity and hopes the puck luck follows him.

[MORE HAWKS: Blackhawks' PK stays strong through changes]

“We’re just getting the bounces,” Kero said of the Rockford success. “[We’re] focusing a little bit more on the defensive zone play, being good defensively and penalty kill and it seems like that’s when the offense starts to come.”

Winning hasn’t been a problem lately for the Blackhawks; despite missing Duncan Keith, they’ve won their last four games. Scoring, however, has been an issue. Both of the Blackhawks’ last two victories have been 1-0 overtime decisions, with Jonathan Toews scoring both winners. So perhaps Kero can help spark things.

“It’s good for him. He gets rewarded getting called up. When you win you usually don’t make many changes but it’s a good opportunity based on how well he played,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We liked him in camp; we thought he played well in the exhibition games. We like him in the middle, like his quickness, but got off to a positive start, gets rewarded and look forward to seeing how he does.”

Kero hopes he can play his part.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“They’re still finding a way to win which is a good thing. So hopefully I can get a chance to help them out and they’re really good defensively right now,” Kero said. “I was pretty surprised [at the call-up] and I was very excited for the opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Gustafsson partnered with Michal Rozsival during Wednesday’s practice. Past Kero’s installment on the third line, Quenneville said he’s unlikely to change the lineup for Thursday. Whether or not Gustafsson plays on Friday in Minnesota is unknown right now.

Gustafsson was one of the last defensive prospects in Chicago as training camp came to a close. At the time, Gustafsson said he’d be upset if he didn’t make the Blackhawks’ roster – he didn’t. As it turns out, Gustafsson’s time in Rockford has been a great learning experience.

“I think it helped me a lot,” he said. “The first two or three games down there in Rockford it was a little hard to play. I was just chipping the puck out. I didn’t have the confidence in me. In four or five games I got used to it and got a lot of confidence with the puck and how to play over here.”

BRIEFLY

- Quenneville ran a line drill with a twist on Wednesday: he ran it without a puck. The move was a tribute to Jimmy Roberts, who died of cancer on Friday. Roberts won five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and was an original member of the St. Louis Blues. Roberts later coached for Buffalo and Hartford. “It was great, because I could see him doing it, moving, he had the mittens and the hat he wore,” Quenneville said. “We do the drill every day, but without the pucks is his flavor we added to it. Players get a kick out of that part of it.”

- Rozsival continues to practice with the Blackhawks. The defenseman will be eligible to come off long-term injury reserve in a few days but it still could be a bit until he plays. Asked if Rozsival could play Monday against the Los Angeles Kings, Quenneville said that “may be stretching it.”

- Crawford will start vs. the Jets.

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."