Big first period paces Blackhawks over Penguins

Big first period paces Blackhawks over Penguins

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.

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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."

After snapping 12-game goal drought, Alex DeBrincat hoping 'I can get hot again'


After snapping 12-game goal drought, Alex DeBrincat hoping 'I can get hot again'

BOSTON — Alex DeBrincat isn't used to going through long stretches without scoring a goal. He found the back of the net 41 times last season, which was tied for sixth amongst all skaters.

But the offense hasn't come as naturally for him this season. 

While he's dishing out assists at a career-high rate (0.50 per game), DeBrincat had only five goals through 27 games going into Thursday and was on pace to finish the season with 15. The longest goal drought of his NHL career is 13 games, which came during his rookie season, and he was on the verge of tying that mark.

But after breaking through in the third period of Thursday's 4-3 overtime win over the Boston Bruins, DeBrincat ended a 12-game drought for his first goal since Nov. 7. And he's hoping it will open the floodgates.

"It was a long time between goals," DeBrincat said. "But hopefully I can get hot again and keep going."

DeBrincat didn't show it, but the frustration was brewing inside. In Saturday's 7-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche he couldn't convert on an open backdoor chance and took out his anger on Samuel Girard by picking a fight with the 5-foot-10, 170-pound defenseman.

DeBrincat is a goal scorer and he wasn't scoring. With the monkey off his back, perhaps this could propel his offensive production.

"He's been playing well, getting chances," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "They just haven't gone in for him. Hopefully this is the little boost that he needs."

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Blackhawks pick up marquee overtime win in Boston, but will it serve as jump-start to something bigger?

USA Today

Blackhawks pick up marquee overtime win in Boston, but will it serve as jump-start to something bigger?

BOSTON — The Blackhawks knew Thursday's matchup against the Boston Bruins was going to be a serious test. They had lost three in a row (0-3-0) and six of their past seven games (1-5-1) and were running into a Bruins team that was aiming for their ninth consecutive win.

To make things more challenging, the Blackhawks were without Duncan Keith (groin) for the fourth straight game, Andrew Shaw (concussion protocol) for the second time and Olli Maatta (flu-like symptoms). It was going to be a measuring stick kind of game for the Blackhawks against the reigning Eastern Conference champions, especially after getting blown out 4-0 to the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in their previous outing.

The Blackhawks were slightly the better team through the first 40 minutes, capitalizing on a couple of chances and killing off four penalties against the NHL's second-ranked power play unit to take a 2-0 lead into the second intermission. But you knew the Bruins, who had yet to lose in regulation at home this season (12-0-4), were going to push back hard in their own building and they did.

After Alex DeBrincat scored 17 seconds — how fitting? — into the third period to make it 3-0, the Bruins responded 1:32 later and that's when the ride turned in a hurry.

The Bruins peppered the Blackhawks with 11 even-strength scoring chances in the third period, according to Natural Stat Trick, after having 12 in the first two periods combined and scored three straight to force overtime. Chris Wagner took advantage of an Erik Gustafsson tire blowout on a 2-on-1 opportunity by scoring a shorthanded goal to cut the Blackhawks' lead to 3-2 with 4:59 left in regulation and Torey Krug tied it up at 3-3 just 2:26 later.

But Jonathan Toews salvaged the second point for the Blackhawks by scoring on a breakaway 54 seconds into overtime to give his club a much-needed 4-3 victory against arguably the NHL's best team.

"I think we did a good job of hanging in there," Toews said of the Bruins' third-period push. "We're not happy with giving up the lead for sure. ... But it's nice to get the win even though they turned the momentum late in the game."

It was a win the Blackhawks can feel good about from the perspective that every guy played an important role. 

Ryan Carpenter scored a shorthanded goal for his first of the season, DeBrincat (12 games) and Toews (seven) each ended their goal droughts, Dylan Strome had a multi-point effort after missing four games with a concussion, Connor Murphy had a two-assist night, Calvin de Haan led all skaters with 25:26 of ice time and Robin Lehner stopped 37 of 40 shots for a save percentage of .925 after getting pulled in his last start.

The Blackhawks were desperate for a win and they got it, even though it was an ugly finish.

"We knew it was a great opportunity because we haven't played up to par for a long period of time," Lehner said. "We know we have to change the tide and this was a great opportunity to do so. As I've said before we've shown in spurts we're a good team, we've just got to start doing it consistently. It's the same thing in the third period today. We were doing some things that were unacceptable that we need to just take out of our game and then we'll be fine. We have the right personnel on this team to be a good team."

While they will certainly take the two points on the road, the Blackhawks know it won't matter unless they turn this into something larger. They've slipped near the bottom of the Western Conference and are trying to climb their way back up yet again.

And there's an opportunity for the Blackhawks to earn four points in a 48-hour span on Friday against a New Jersey Devils squad that has the second-fewest points (22) of any team and second-worst goal differential (minus-32).

"We had a little run there after we had a big win in Nashville," Toews said. "Whether we win a string of games together, we can build off games like this. We had the start we needed tonight and carried it through 60 for the most part. It's got to be a confidence builder when you beat a team like Boston in their own building but what matters is what we do next. We got another chance to build off it tomorrow night."

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