PITTSBURGH – There are certain trends through which the Blackhawks tend to go sometimes. They can be so-so against teams on the bubble or out of the postseason. But face a playoff-bound team and the Blackhawks usually come with a top-notch game.
Exhibit A on that came on Wednesday.
Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane each had two-point nights, and Marian Hossa scored his 25th of the season as the Blackhawks beat the Penguins 5-1 on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks snapped a three-game winless streak and now have a nine-point lead over the Minnesota Wild in the West.
Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 32 shots and Richard Panik scored his 22nd goal of the season. Bryan Rust had the Penguins' lone goal 5:46 into the third period.
The Blackhawks had played well here and there over the last month but putting it all together has been a challenge. On Wednesday, however, the Blackhawks were looking more like themselves. From slick passes to opportunistic goals to playing the same from start to finish, it was a much-needed effort.
"We did a lot of good things. Great start, nice plays on the goals," coach Joel Quenneville said. "That Tampa Bay game [on Monday] was like that for 30 minutes, but I liked the continuation of today's game. A couple of shifts they had some good momentum but I think we stabilized it, played a safe and smart game with the lead."
The Penguins, much like the Blackhawks, entered this one with 103 points. But while the Blackhawks are missing Artem Anisimov right now, the Penguins are missing several, including Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Trevor Daley. Still, it's the Penguins, and you underestimate them at your own risk. The Blackhawks didn't.
The Blackhawks got the early lead, then really pounced in the final five-plus minutes of the first period. The Blackhawks got stellar set-up passes from Patrick Kane, Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz and finishes to accompany them. Two of their goals (Marcus Kruger and Hossa) came in the final minute of the first period for that 4-0 lead.
"We knew we wanted to have a good start. Sometimes you have guys in here who can see plays and things open up. A lot of good plays by everyone tonight, a lot of scoring across the board so that was good to see," Kane said. "That's kind of the game we've been hoping for the past few weeks. You get a great start that obviously helps the rest of the game."
The Penguins had the first six shots of the third. But the Blackhawks would score on their first of the period when Tanner Kero, who had another good game at second-line center, took the turnover from Justin Schultz and finished on a breakaway.
This road trip was a mixed bag for the Blackhawks. It started off in forgettable fashion. It ended the way the Blackhawks hoped, with the complete game they've been looking for the past few weeks.
"Really good start," Crawford said. "Obviously we scored a bunch of goals, but I thought our game was even better after that. We had some good kills, [didn't] give them momentum on their power play and it was great game, a full game for us."