EDMONTON, Alberta – There have been times where the Blackhawks have gone into breaks playing so-so hockey.
They've looked tired, unmotivated, like they've flipped the calendar to their off day a few hours too early. But on Saturday, the Blackhawks looked like a team that was going to earn a few days off.
Richard Panik had two goals and an assist and Jonathan Toews added two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-1 on Saturday night. The Blackhawks went 5-1-0 on their Ice Show trip and enter the break on a five-game winning streak, three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild.
Patrick Kane had a goal and and two assists. Scott Darling stopped 30 of 31 shots for the victory and Artem Anisimov scored his 20th goal of the season.
The Blackhawks got steadily better on this road trip and they saved their most convincing victory on it for the end. Patrick Maroon gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game after Connor McDavid picked Niklas Hjalmarsson's pocket. That was pretty much the last time the Blackhawks were caught playing careful.
"We're playing good hockey," Darling said. "That's a super talented team with a lot of skill. We weathered the storm and took over the game. We played 200-foot hockey and that helped give me an easier night."
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
Indeed, when the Oilers made mistakes, they capitalized – Trevor van Riemsdyk's goal off Oscar Klefbom's gaffe was one such example. Their power play was stellar. Kane scored from behind the net on one advantage, shooting the puck off Edmonton goaltender Cam Talbot's skate. Panik cleaned up a rebound on the second, which gave the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead late in the second period.
The four-line rotation was evident again but the top line did the most damage. Panik had his second three-point night of the season – his other one was his hat trick against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 15.
"If you get a goal your confidence is high," Panik said. "When you're hot you have to keep doing it as long as it goes because if you go on a cold streak you can go on it for a while. That's what happened to me at the beginning of the season."
Considering how well the Blackhawks are playing right now you wouldn't have been surprised to hear a player or two wish they could delay the bye and keep playing. Nope. As Darling said, "we'll be back pretty quick."
"We'll use it to our advantage," Duncan Keith said. "We'll try to use it to rest up and feel as good as we can, come back and try to carry on the momentum. At the end of the day it's been a good stretch of games here lately. All four lines, defensemen and goalies are playing great. It's just something we can keep in our heads, of what we can do."
The Blackhawks have had a habit of sliding into a break. They could've done it again on Saturday, coming off big victories over the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets and playing on the second night of a back to back. Instead, whatever energy they had remaining, they used it wisely.
"Minny, which had our number going back eight games, we knew the importance of that game. Winnipeg owned four games against us and good response [Friday] night. Earlier this season we got pounded here. Good response all three games," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're certainly happy how we're going into the break. Everyone should enjoy it, knowing we put a nice standard going into it."