Blackhawks rally to beat Blues, extend winning streak to four games

Blackhawks rally to beat Blues, extend winning streak to four games

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks have relied heavily on their goaltending throughout the season, Corey Crawford for most of it but Scott Darling lately. When offense was sputtering, goaltending was allowing few goals.

But on Saturday night Darling admittedly he wasn’t at his best. So for the second consecutive game, the Blackhawks’ offense did its part to support its goalie.

Artemi Panarin had a goal and two assists and Vinnie Hinostroza scored the game-winning goal as the Blackhawks came back to beat the St. Louis Blues 6-4. The Blackhawks stay atop the Western Conference with 46 points; they have a six-point lead over Minnesota and an eight-point lead on the Blues.

The Blackhawks could be down a forward again, however, as Artem Anisimov suffered an upper-body injury in the first period and did not return. Coach Joel Quenneville listed Anisimov as day-to-day; he wasn’t sure if Anisimov would play against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.

Dennis Rasmussen, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson also scored for the Blackhawks, who tallied three third-period goals to overcome the 4-3 deficit they faced after 40 minutes. Panarin’s goal was an empty netter with 49 seconds left in regulation. Patrick Kane scored his first goal since Nov. 26.

Darling, who played in his eighth game since Dec. 3, may be feeling signs of fatigue. He was just unlucky on the second goal, when Kyle Brodziak’s shot hit a broken stick. But Darling knows he wasn’t at his best but he said he’s not tired.

SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“I mean when you play this much, just like any goalie, there’s going to be some games where you have some bad bounces or bad luck. You’re not going to have shutouts every game. You just have to roll with it and be happy and grateful that we won,” Darling said. “Put it in the rearview mirror and get ready for the next one.”

Whether that next one is Sunday against the Sharks remains to be seen. Quenneville, who sees the workload likely affecting Darling, said the Blackhawks will discuss who starts that game. Backup Lars Johansson was recalled on Dec. 4 but has yet to play in an NHL game.

But as Darling said, he had a good support system on Sunday. The Blackhawks offense is waking up, scoring 11 goals in its past two games.

Hjalmarsson’s fourth of the season came one minute into the third period, tying the game at 4-4. Then Hinostroza put a pretty backhand shot past Jake Allen for a lead the Blackhawks wouldn’t relinquish.

“I was just trying to screen the goalie, [Marian Hossa] passed it up to [Brent Seabrook] and I was trying to screen the goalie. There was a rebound at my feet. I just tried to kick it to my stick and shot to an open net. it was exciting,” said Hinostroza of his goal, his first NHL game winner. “It definitely feels good. It’s been a while since I scored last but I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of chances, so good to see one hit the back of the net.”

The Blackhawks ran the gamut on this road trip. They beat the New York Rangers with great goaltending and defense. They gave up plenty against the New York Islanders and Blues but still won. The Blackhawks goaltending has come up big through most of this season. Every now and then, Crawford or Darling is going to have off nights. On Saturday, Darling got the goal-scoring support to get through a tough one.

“A couple bad luck, but some bad goals, too. I have to be better than that and you know it’s nice when you don’t have a good game and somehow still get the win,” Darling said. “The guys played great and really picked me up out there. That’s huge.”

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

The London Knights set high expectations for themselves going into the 2018-19 OHL campaign. They always do. Their roster is usually loaded with top NHL prospects and this season was no different.

After finishing No. 1 in the Western Conference with 99 points, the Knights looked poised to go on a deep run. They got off to a roaring start in the playoffs by sweeping the Windsor Spitfires (4-0) and kicked off the second round by winning three straight against the Guelph Storm. But then, for the first time all season, the Knights lost four in a row to squander a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated just like that. It was a disappointing finish for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations.

One of the bright spots of the postseason was Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist. He was tied for first among all skaters with 10 goals through two rounds; no other defenseman had more than six. And he finished with 13 points in 11 games for a points-per-game average of 1.18.

To summarize his season: Boqvist scored one goal in his first 15 games. From that point on, he finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 50 games, including playoffs. He became an offensive driving force.

It's unclear what his future holds, but with Evan Bouchard expected to turn pro and secure a full-time roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers next season, returning to London would put Boqvist in a position where he could be the No. 1 defenseman in all situations.

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