Minnesota Wild

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to extend winning streak against Wild

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to extend winning streak against Wild

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild 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. Foot on gas.

The Blackhawks have won four straight and are looking to make it five in a row against a Wild team that's fighting to stay in the playoff picture also.

The Wild are already without Devan Dubnyk, who's considered week to week with a lower-body injury, and they rank dead last in shots per game (28.5). That's not a favorable combo right now, because the Blackhawks rank sixth with 34.5 shots per game.

Joel Quenneville always preaches playing with pace and with the puck, and there shouldn't be a reason the Blackhawks don't continue that tonight with the Wild coming off a back-to-back.

2. Can the second line stay hot?

In the last three games, the trio of Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane has combined for 10 points (five goals, five assists), and they've teamed up to score the game winner in two of the last three. 

Kane himself has a three-game point streak after going pointless in his previous four, which was the longest drought since 2009. That line has been clicking, and it's important for it to stay that way as the Blackhawks look to evolve into a strong four-line team.

3. How will the blue line stack up?

The Blackhawks were hopeful that Cody Franson (lower body) and Jan Rutta (upper body) would skate at practice on Saturday, but neither of them did. So unless something drastic changes overnight, it appears the Blackhawks will roll out the same six defensemen with Ville Pokka being the lone healthy scratch.

Jordan Oesterle has played so well since returning to the lineup that Quenneville put him on the second power-play unit during Saturday's practice, and Michal Kempny made an impact in his first game since Nov. 12 when he scored a goal in Thursday's 5-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

If both of them play turn in another solid performance, it will be interesting to see how Quenneville plays his cards once one or both of either Franson or Rutta are ready to return soon.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' shutout win over Wild: Power play getting better

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AP

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' shutout win over Wild: Power play getting better

ST. PAUL, Minn. – You can pretty much guess what No. 1 is, right? Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night:

1. More outstanding goaltending.

We discussed Corey Crawford in the main story so let’s look ahead: does Crawford start again when the Blackhawks host Montreal on Sunday? Coach Joel Quenneville said it’s “under consideration” following Crawford’s second consecutive shutout. But he has to weigh that against giving Anton Forsberg a chance to redeem himself from his tough outing in Colorado. The way Crawford’s playing, however, don’t be surprised if he’s in net again on Sunday.

2. The power play capitalizes.

OK, the Blackhawks’ power play still isn’t outstanding. It’s nevertheless ironic that the advantage has been responsible for the game-winning goals for two consecutive contests. Of course a lot of the credit still goes to Crawford for the shutout but getting anything on that power play right now is a bonus.

“We had a real tough stretch of scoring on the power play and all of a sudden you score two big ones, it certainly helps our standing and can help with some production going forward,” Quenneville said.

3. Fourth line creating again.

The Blackhawks have gotten good work out of the fourth line, whether it’s been John Hayden or Ryan Hartman on the right side. On Saturday he, Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels combined for seven shots on goal. On the other side of that…

4. The second line’s quiet night.

There wasn’t much doing for the trio of Brandon Saad, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane. Schmaltz had four shots on goal, and three of those were through the first 40 minutes. Saad didn’t get his first (and only) shot on goal until early in the third period. Kane also got his lone one in the third.

5. Artem Anisimov finding is game again.

Goals aren’t the only indicator of improved play, but they certainly help. Anisimov now has four goals in as many games, three of which have come on special teams (two power-play goals and a short-handed effort). Quenneville said Anisimov has been “way, way better” in recent games. His improved confidence could help get the power play going again.

The puck stops here: Corey Crawford nets second straight shutout for Blackhawks

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AP

The puck stops here: Corey Crawford nets second straight shutout for Blackhawks

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Blackhawks have been trending in the right direction in a few aspects of their game. Their power play still isn’t great, but it’s been responsible for the game-winning goal in two consecutive contests. Artem Anisimov, after a rough start, has a four-game goal streak which includes those two power-play goals.

But the constant remains Corey Crawford, who has gone from allowing very little to nothing at all.

Crawford’s been a big topic of conversation this season and for good reason. When the Blackhawks have sputtered he’s been stellar. That continued on Saturday night when Crawford recorded his second consecutive shutout, a 24-stop performance in the Blackhawks’ 2-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild.

Crawford now has a shutout streak of 131 minutes, 15 seconds; the last goal he gave up was to Colorado’s Rocco Grimaldi 8:45 into the Avalanche’s 6-3 victory over the Blackhawks on Oct. 28.

That’s all well and good for Crawford, but he still needs more help on the other side.

“He makes big saves, key times. We just need to help him out,” Anisimov said. “[Allow] less shots. Better defensive play, the whole team.”

No argument there. The Blackhawks allowed fewer shots but those they gave up were still pretty choice. Crawford started the third period stopping breakaways by Eric Staal and Jared Spurgeon. Nino Niederreiter thought he had a goal against Crawford in the first period – lights flashed and the horn blew – but the puck bounced off the post and went back to Crawford, who leg-swept it away.

“I saw it go off the post. You kind of know where [the puck] is, so sweep and hope for the best,” Crawford said. “I don’t know. A little luck, too, I guess.”

Sure, that never hurts. But most of Crawford’s work lately has been good, not lucky. As far as the Blackhawks’ offense, they’ve eked out enough; on Saturday it was Anisimov’s power-play goal and Alex DeBrincat’s empty-net goal. Not bad, but it could be better.

“We’d still like more production but at the same time the better you check the more offense you get off it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still don’t think we generated enough offense [vs. the Wild] but we didn’t mind the way we played without it. Some nights they go in.”