By Jeff Hamilton
WINNIPEG, Manitoba. – After the morning skate, hours before puck drop against the Winnipeg Jets Friday night at the MTS Centre, Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville warned about the dangers of the Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane line.
In this case, what sparked the conversation was the trio’s lack of explosiveness over the last stretch of games. Kane, who despite being the NHL’s leading scorer with 39 goals and 94 points heading into the night, had just two assists in his last five games. Panarin, who will surely be a finalist for top rookie come season’s end, had just two points in his last nine.
“They still get looks in games, they’re still dangerous,” insisted Quenneville. “They get a lot of attention from our opponents but I still think every time they hit the ice they’re a threat to score and there’s a lot of danger in their game.”
That “danger” was on full display Friday, as Panarin finished with a season-high four points to lead the Hawks — the eighth time this season Panarin has recorded at least three points in a game.
He opened the scoring for the Hawks in the first period, set up Patrick Kane for his 40th of the year in the second, evened the score at 4-4 in the third and capped off a 2-on-1 play with a nifty pass to Brent Seabrook for the game-winning goal at the 1:02 mark of overtime.
As for Kane, he finished with a two-point night with an assist on Panarin’s first-period goal, extending his NHL-leading point-total to 96.
“When they get some speed through the middle of the ice they kind of have a pretty good idea of where the other guy is going to end up," said Quenneville after the game. "They find lanes and seams like they did on the power play and on 5-on-5 and they get through some nights and their finish is excellent."
As impressive as the Hawks’ top line was, the victory was far from a thing of beauty. The Hawks surrendered two separate leads in the game, and were trailing 4-3 late in the third period. They were also short a few guys in the second period, losing Jonathan Toews, who took a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot to the side of the head, and Trevor van Riemsdyk, both of who returned for the third. Andrew Shaw had just one shift in the second period but had to leave the game.
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Blake Wheeler scored twice, and Dustin Byfuglien and rookie Nic Petan each added a goal to keep the game close for the Jets.
“I definitely think it’s a confidence booster looking forward knowing we can be down and get a big goal, get it to overtime, do whatever we need to do to get the two points,” said Seabrook, who’s OT winner was his 14th of the season.
Seabrook’s late heroics were a high note for the Blackhawks, who started the evening on a low one.
Just before puck drop, news broke that Duncan Keith had been suspended six games for his high-stick on Minnesota forward Charlie Coyle in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Wild. With Friday’s game included in the suspension, Keith will miss just one playoff game.
As for the rest of the team, the Hawks return home from the four-game trip with a 3-1 record, improving to 45-26-7 on the season. The win also extends their lead to six points on the idle Nashville Predators for third spot in the Central Division and just four points short of St. Louis, who lost 6-5 to Boston.
Scott Darling allowed four goals on 32 shots to improve to 10-8-3.