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.”
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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.”