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.

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“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.”

Artemi Panarin and desperate Rangers set to face Blackhawks

Artemi Panarin and desperate Rangers set to face Blackhawks

When you see a highlight of Artemi Panarin making a dazzling play — usually that results in the puck finding the back of the net — you can't help but think, 'He'd really look good in a Hawks sweater... again.'

Alex DeBrincat struggling to one-time the puck from the left circle the way he used to on the man advantage is one of the factors giving the Hawks the NHL's worst power play. Artemi Panarin was the guy who used to do that for the Blackhawks, and he rarely missed. 

Alas, the man of bread is locked up for six more years after this one with the Rangers at an AAV north of $11.6 million and his contract has a no movement clause. 

In June 2017, the Blackhawks traded the dynamic winger to the Columbus Blue Jackets, along with forward Tyler Motte and a draft pick, to re-acquire Brandon Saad and get goalie Anton Forsberg and a pick. 

Panarin, now 28, had 151 points (61 goals, 90 assists) with Chicago in two seasons after signing a free agent contract on May 1, 2015. He previously played in the Kontinental Hockey League. 

The 2016 Calder Trophy winner had 169 points (55 goals, 114 assists) in two seasons with the Blue Jackets before signing with the Rangers as a free agent. 

This year, his 78 points (29 goals, 49 assists) are good for fifth in the league. 

Last year, Panarin returned to the United Center ahead of becoming a free agent and had a friendly competition with Patrick Kane to see who would be last of the ice following warmups. Kane isn't sure there will be time for pregame shenanigans with his pal before Wednesday's game.

"I think we got that faceoff tonight (40th anniversary of Miracle on Ice ceremonial puck drop with Jack O'Callahan), so it'll be interesting to see what comes of that," Kane said. "I always try to be the last on my team, not really worry about the other team, but he's having a great season. 

"Obviously an amazing player, a player that you'd pay to watch play the game. Still try to stay pretty close with him and stay in contact and just kind of catch up here and there throughout the season."

Panarin has meant a lot to a Rangers team desperate to claw back into the playoff picture while sitting eight points out, just like the Hawks.

"Unbelievable," New York center Ryan Strome (brother of Chicago center Dylan Strome) said of Panarin. "The way he controls the puck, the way he controls the play, you guys were lucky enough to see it for a few years here. 

"I think he's better now than he was then. His game's growing, he competes on pucks really hard and he's been a silent leader for us. I think everyone sees how hard he plays and how hard he works and we follow. He's been our catalyst and he's done everything we could ask of him, so he's been great."

Strome thinks the Bread Man should be in the MVP conversation as well.

"Yeah, especially if we get in the playoffs here," he said. "It would be hard not to consider him. His numbers are ridiculous. I've seen some stats about Jaromir Jagr and some ex-Rangers that have put up similar numbers to him. To be in that category is pretty special. 

"You guys have seen it firsthand, the way he acts and how much fun he has doing it I think just rubs off on everyone, too. In such a serious season and such a serious business we're in, I think to have a guy like him, he's doing his leg kick and he's lightening the mood a little bit, that stuff is contagious. That's part of his personality and part of what makes him a great player."

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Zack Smith feels fortunate after coming 'millimeter' away from season-ending injury

USA Today

Zack Smith feels fortunate after coming 'millimeter' away from season-ending injury

Zack Smith knew immediately something was wrong. Not because of the pain but because of what happened.

In the final minute of the second period against Vancouver on Feb. 12, Smith had his left hand stepped on by a Canucks player. The television broadcast didn't pick it up, but Smith quickly threw his glove off and went straight to the locker room fearing the worst.

"It wasn't a very painful thing when it happened, it just happened and I was like, 'That's not good,'" Smith said. "You feel a skate blade step on your hand, you know it's not going to look good. The trainers said they couldn't believe there wasn't blood on the glove because I just threw it off right away and went to the bench. I was pretty worried there for a bit, and then right away doctors were able to tell me, 'It's going to be fine. Just a few stitches.' Just a short time of panic."

Smith did not return to the game, but that was the least of his worries. And the Blackhawks, who weren't exactly sure what happened.

"Yeah, scary thing," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I didn’t see it so when he came off I thought he broke his wrist or something, we didn’t really know in the moment. But when you hear what happened and see the cut, it’s not a good situation. So, obviously happy that it’s not too serious."

It could've been much worse for Smith, who practiced with the team at morning skate on Wednesday and is inching closer to a return. He was close to a potential long-term injury but is now back on the ice less than a week after the injury occurred.

"It was probably a millimeter away from being the end of my season," Smith said. "I got very lucky. A couple of stitches and a few days off is all it's taken."

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