Blackhawks

Vladimir Tarasenko has arrived as an NHL superstar

Vladimir Tarasenko has arrived as an NHL superstar

It sometimes takes a breakout in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the hockey world to realize how good a player actually is, and it's happening right now for Vladimir Tarasenko.

After scoring two more goals in the St. Louis Blues' 4-3 victory over the Blackhawks in Game 4 on Tuesday night, Tarasenko now has 13 goals in 17 career playoff games, which is the best goals-per-game average in NHL history among players who have played in at least 15 postseason tilts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

He also has eight goals in nine games against the Blackhawks this year, counting the regular season, two of which were overtime winners during 3-on-3 play at the United Center.

"He's a unique player," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Tarasenko after Tuesday's win. "It's been a long time since you see players score from distance. He's a very unique player that way because he gets it away so fast and it's so heavy and so accurate. He knows well ahead of time where it's going. It's a very, very unique player. You wish there was more of those guys in the league."

Tarasenko provided a glimpse of his superstar potential at the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign when he was making an early case for the Hart Trophy. The 24-year-old Russian winger compiled 39 points (22 goals, 17 assists) in the first 38 games of the regular season, a notch above a point-per-game pace.

But when the calendar flipped to 2016, he cooled off, scoring 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists) in 42 games the rest of the way, respectively. Despite that, he still was one of only four players that finished the year with 40 goals, the first time he's reached that mark in his young NHL career.

Perhaps his minor dip in production — if you want to call it that — down the stretch was the conservation of energy for the games that really count, because he's certainly a large reason why the Blues have taken a commanding 3-1 series lead in their first-round series against the Blackhawks.

"He’s a great player when he gets his shot through," Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said. "He’s a very dangerous guy. We gotta play tight on him, play strong on him. Make sure he doesn’t wind up and create space for himself."

Said Duncan Keith: "He’s got a great shot, quick release and he doesn’t need much time or space. Obviously, a guy that we’ve got to be aware of when we’re out on the ice with him. On the power play, try to get in his lane and he’s good at getting them through. It’s just got to be a team effort."

Ironically, Tarasenko was drafted by the Blues with the No. 16 overall pick in 2010 via a trade from the Ottawa Senators, who sacrificed the pick to acquire current Blackhawks defenseman David Rundblad.

The payoff was surely worth it.

Tarasenko is a lethal weapon on the power play, but he's also making his presence felt during five-on-five play as well.

The Blues have controlled 57.8 percent of the shot attempts when he's on the ice during even-strength play through the first four games of the playoffs, according to war-on-ice.com, a significant increase from his 53.2 percentage in the regular season, which is an already solid number.

If the Blackhawks have any shot at overcoming a 3-1 series deficit, stopping No. 91 is up there on the priority list.

"His shot's great," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We gotta tighten it up when he's out there, deny him the puck or get in the lane, better sticks. I think he's a very dangerous player and the shot's definitely been on. We're having some looks that maybe be better than that but his shot's finding a way, so we have to be better."

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

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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?