Blackhawks

How did Crosby fare in his return to the ice?

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How did Crosby fare in his return to the ice?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- The questions surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins are quickly being answered. Questions such as: How good would the Penguins be if Sidney Crosby and the rest of their injured players were healthy in time for the NHL playoffs? Will the return of Crosby to a club surging without him disrupt the mojo that had the Penguins storming toward the top of the Eastern Conference? On Thursday, under the glare of intense media attention in the heart of New York, Crosby returned from a three-month absence caused by recurring concussion symptoms and helped the Penguins thoroughly beat the New York Rangers 5-2 for Pittsburgh's 10th straight victory. Not only didn't the Penguins skip a beat as they welcomed their captain back into the lineup, they thrived. Crosby earned only one assist on the score sheet, but he was on the ice for three of Pittsburgh's goals. Now the questions gaining lots of steam throughout the NHL: Are the Penguins the new threat to come out of the East, and can anyone stop them? "I don't like to say stuff like that," said Marc-Andre Fleury, who was overshadowed despite making 29 saves in his 38th win of the season, and ninth in the streak. "We're playing pretty solid hockey these days. It's a long season and nothing is over. We have to keep going, trying to get points, trying to catch the Rangers. Everybody feels pretty confident." The Penguins are suddenly the picture of health, and the NHL's hottest team is making the playoff race a fight to the finish. Crosby returned from a 40-game absence along with defenseman Kris Letang, who missed the past five because of concussion issues. That gave the Penguins their most complete lineup in months, and Pittsburgh responded by thumping the slumping and beat-up Rangers. The Penguins have beaten the Rangers twice during their spurt and now trail them by four points. Pittsburgh has 13 games left, compared to 12 for New York. Crosby was hoping he wouldn't mess up any chemistry created by his teammates while he was out. "I didn't want to be that guy," said the center, who got rare playing time at wing. "I obviously knew we were playing really well. There was a little bit of adjustment, playing wing, things like that. I thought everyone played great, and I'm happy we got the win." Crosby played for the first time since he was forced to the sidelines on Dec. 5. His presence was felt way beyond what can be analyzed by numbers. He took 18 shifts, and the Penguins scored on three without allowing any. "I think he played a great game," said Matt Cooke, who scored twice while playing on a new third line with Crosby. "He draws so much attention when he is on the ice. People are worried about how good he is. That makes the players on the ice with him that much better." That showed throughout as the Penguins became the first team this season to score five goals against the Rangers. Crosby joined Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on a line. Kennedy had two assists, and NHL points leader Evgeni Malkin added a goal for the Penguins, who haven't lost since Feb. 19 at Buffalo. Pittsburgh's winning streak started two days later with a 2-0 home victory against the Rangers. "That was the only way we could catch them, by beating them because they were winning a lot," Fleury said. Crosby is expected to play in each of Pittsburgh's remaining games -- including two this weekend at New Jersey and Philadelphia to complete a span of three games in four days against divisional foes.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers

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

(Reminder: Use #AskEdzo on social media and your questions may be answered by Eddie Olczyk, who will be in studio along with Adam Burish, Brian Campbell and Pat Boyle).

1. Another fast start coming?

The Blackhawks had one of their best starts of the season Wednesday in Tampa Bay, and the numbers favor Chicago to dictate the pace of play early again.

The Panthers are tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the fewest goals scored in the first period (13), and have taken a lead into the second period only four times (3-1-0) in 21 games. They are 2-7-1 in the 10 games they've trailed after the opening frame.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are tied for fourth when it comes to first-period goals (22) — albeit, five of them came on Opening Night against Pittsburgh — but they are just 4-2-2 in eight games when leading after one period. In fact, they took a 2-0 lead into the second in their most recent game against the Lightning and lost in overtime 3-2.

So while a fast start could certainly be in the cards, the finish must also be there.

2. Take advantage on special teams.

The Panthers are one of two teams ranked among the bottom six in both power play percentage (26th at 16.0) and penalty kill percentage (30th at 73.2).

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are coming in hot in both areas. They're 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) on the man advantage in their last four games, and own the fourth-best penalty kill unit (84.8 percent).

This is the area to exploit for the Blackhawks going into the matchup, and it could decide the game.

3. Feed Lance Bouma!

In his seventh season, Bouma has faced every NHL team at least five times in his career, with the exception of Vegas (pointless in one game this season).

Bouma is not known for his offensive prowess (72 points in 325 career games), but it's a different story when he plays Florida.

In six career games against the Panthers, Bouma has one goal, six assists and a career-high plus-8 rating. That one goal also happens to be one of his six career game winners.

Florida is the only team Bouma is averaging at least a point-per-game against for his career, so you know what that means: Feed No. 17!

Is Steve Kerr trolling the Bulls?

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AP

Is Steve Kerr trolling the Bulls?

With Kevin Durant (ankle) and Draymond Green (rest) out, the Golden State Warriors had two starting forward positions open for Friday's game against the Bulls.

One of the two starters replacing them? Jordan Bell. Does his name ring one, too?

Selected by the Bulls with the 38th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Bell was eventually traded to the Warriors in exchange for cash considerations.

The Oregon product hasn't played much this season for the defending champs, averaging just 3.2 points and 8.3 minutes in 12 games, but he will make his first career start against ... his "former" team. Coincidence?

Warriors coach Steve Kerr (jokingly) explains why he's giving the 22-year-old rookie the nod in the lineup.

Prior to the game, Bell also had this to say about his trade:

Buckle up, Bulls fans. Lauri Markkanen vs. Jordan Bell Part II is coming your way too.