Blackhawks

Balanced attack allows Blackhawks to blow past Red Wings

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Balanced attack allows Blackhawks to blow past Red Wings

DETROIT — For so long this season, the Blackhawks have leaned on that second line for consistency and, more importantly, offense.

And while that line’s wings still played a big part in Wednesday night’s victory, the Blackhawks overall are starting to look more balanced, more polished and more prepared for the postseason.

Artemi Panarin had two goals and Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook each had a goal and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Detroit Red Wings, 5-2, on Wednesday. The Blackhawks moved back into first place with 85 points; the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, both idle, are second and third, respectively, with 83 points.

Corey Crawford, who was selected to Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey earlier on Wednesday, stopped 31 of 33 for his 34th victory. That’s a new career mark for a season for Crawford. Duncan Keith had two assists, and Andrew Ladd scored his first goal in his second go-around with the Blackhawks. Christian Ehrhoff had a strong outing in his Blackhawks debut.

The Blackhawks liked how they looked coming out of Sunday’s game against the Washington Capitals. They were pretty happy with Wednesday night, too, as they once again played a strong game from start to finish. When they did make mistakes, Crawford was there to clean them up.

“I thought we had a good game across the board,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I liked the new guys’ contributions, the depth and the balance and the rotation on the four lines. I thought Christian looked very comfortable back there and made good rushes, had a great chance to score. But I thought our team game with the puck was good.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Corey Crawford among Blackhawks’ World Cup of Hockey selections]

Kane and Panarin were big parts of that again. Kane set up the Russian rookie on both his goals, the 5-on-3 power-play goal and Panarin’s late one, which gave the Blackhawks a 5-1 lead at the time. Kane’s 37th goal of the season proved to be the game winner; he also tied a career high in points for a season.

“I was on a pretty good pace the last two years and got injured both years. I think I had 20 games left last year and 14 or 15 the years before. Had a good season the year before with the lockout,” Kane said. “It’s probably inflated a little bit this year, but at the same time, I think I’ve been trending in this direction. I give my line mates and teammates a lot of credit. The power play has been good this year, which helps, too.”

Seabrook was active from the start, his 13th goal of the season giving the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead just 2:23 into the game. He also helped set up Panarin’s first goal as well as Kane’s.

“Another guy who’s having a great year,” Jonathan Toews said. “We know he’s capable of having success. To see him being put in situations over and over and getting the results he wants and that he’s worked for, it’s a lot of fun to see. He’s a huge part of our team, offensively and defensively right now.”

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Crawford was at his best in the second period, when the Wings fired 16 shots at him.

“I thought we played well. We did the right things all game,” he said. “I thought our PK was strong and we took maybe a few too many (penalties) tonight, but our PK stepped up and was really good. That was a tough team, and we had to be ready. I think we did what we needed to for this one.”

Things are coming together for the Blackhawks right now. They’re more than happy with what the second-line players have done for them this season, but they knew everyone else had to start contributing more. Right now, they are.

“Our team seems to really be coming together with the trades we got,” Crawford said. “We have to keep building on this momentum and chemistry we have right now.”

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.