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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks open Circus Trip in Winnipeg tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks open Circus Trip in Winnipeg tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks kick off their annual Circus Trip in Winnipeg tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com.

While you watch, look for...

1. Vinnie Hinostroza on the top line.

It's been a revolving door at the left wing spot on the first line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that has included Richard Panik, Nick Schmaltz and, most recently, Ryan Hartman. Now it's Vinnie Hinostroza's turn with the big boys. Coach Joel Quenneville said he'd like to find some consistency there and for somebody to nail it down, so perhaps the speedy Bartlett native can hold down that position for the time being.

2. Watch out for the duo of Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele.

Laine and Scheifele have been one of the most dangerous tandems this year, with Laine leading the league in goals (11) and Scheifele leading the league in points (20). Scheifele was named the NHL's second star of the week after scoring three goals and three assists in four games, helping the Jets pick up seven out of a possible eight points. Meanwhile, Laine already has two hat tricks in his young professional career. They're fun to watch, except when you're playing them.

3. Can Marian Hossa continue his goal streak?

The ageless wonder has scored a goal in four straight games, and now has nine goals in 15 games this season. He's averaging a point per game and if he were to finish on that pace, it would be the first time he accomplishes that in a decade. It's still way early, but Hossa is proving that he's still got lots of hockey left in the tank.

4. Marko Dano making his mark.

The former Blackhawks prospect who was acquired from Columbus as part of the Brandon Saad deal in the 2015 offseason is trying to cement a roster spot on the Jets. After being called up less than two weeks ago, he's got three goals and an assist in seven games, and logged a season-high 17:48 of ice time in a 3-2 shootout win over Los Angeles on Sunday. He will surely have some extra juice when he faces his former team tonight.

5. Third period comebacks.

The Blackhawks and Jets have something in common: Both of them play their best hockey when their backs are up against the wall. The Jets have put together a handful of comebacks this season already, as have the Blackhawks, in large part because of their success in the third period. The Jets own the best goal differential in the final frame at plus-11 while the Blackhawks are tied for third at plus-9. Don't count either of these teams out, no matter what the score is.

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At 30, Patrick Kane feels better than ever

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AP

At 30, Patrick Kane feels better than ever

It seems like yesterday that Patrick Kane was breaking into the NHL and considered a rising superstar in Chicago. He's now in Year 12 of his professional career and turned 30 years of age on Monday, which can be a pretty intimidating number for athletes because it often signals the back-nine of their careers.

But not for Kane.

"I still feel pretty good, so I don't think it's that intimidating," Kane said smiling. "But it is 30, so it's pretty crazy how time flies by. I think 30 is still fairly young, especially in today's game, you see a lot of players play into their 40s as well, so just try to maintain what I got going right now and keep it going as long as I can. I still feel fairly young. Sometimes when you get older it's exciting, when maybe you're 18, 19, 20, 21, but now the birthday's seem to be coming faster and faster and more often. It is what it is, but I still feel like I got a lot of hockey left."

Kane isn't showing any signs of slowing down, either. He's on pace to finish with a career-high 49 goals and 101 points this season, which would put him at the 100-point mark for the second time. He's also playing more minutes than he's ever had, and invites it.

"Sometimes I almost wonder if I feel better than I did when I was in my younger 20s," Kane said. "There are so many different things you learn about your body, what works for you. We do a great job at the Blackhawks as far as nutrition, best ways to take care of yourself. I wonder if I almost feel better."

Kane has three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and a Ted Lindsay Award on his resume yet continues to look for ways to get better. It's one of the main reasons why he’s always in the conversation of best players in the league.

"One of the great things about him is he loves the game," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He loves to play. He loves getting better. He's always trying new things. He's interested in what other players are doing and incorporating it into his own game. I think he can just continue to get better in different ways. He'll be a different player obviously as he gets older, but there's no reason why he can't keep improving.

"The top guys, the best players, they're competitors. They want everything. They want to do everything that they can to be great. They're never satisfied until they want to be the best player in the league and win the Cup. That's where he's looking at. That's what he's looking for. He takes everything in."

We’re seeing it in other sports where Drew Brees and Tom Brady are in peak physical condition at age 40 and 41, respectively, and are still playing at the highest level they’ve ever played. Hockey is a different sport, but this is the era we live in now where athletes are meticulous about what they put into their body, how they train and study other players, looking for incremental ways to get better in any way they can both on and off the ice.

For Kane, it’s not hard to see him playing into his 40s. Half the battle is mentally wanting to do it, year round, whether it's training and nutrition or preparing for the grind of an 82-game season plus playoffs.

Kane has always been a rink rat and a student of the game, one of the last players off the ice at practice and somebody who could tell you exactly what happened around the NHL the previous night. So it appears that will never be an issue.

Eventually, there will be a point in time where he's forced to hang it up. Father Time is undefeated.

But that won't be any time soon. He's kicking the can as far down the road as possible, believing he still has a lot of hockey left in the tank and high-level ones at that. At this point, somebody might have to drag him off the ice when it's all said and done.

"Where I'm at in my life right now, I'm just really enjoying playing hockey and I'm really enjoying trying to make the best of my game, be the best player I can be," Kane said. "That's where my focus is right now. I know later in life there are some other things that come into play, whether it's family or kids or different things like that. But if you have the motivation and dedication to take care of your body, it seems like it really pays off for you and you can see it with those type of athletes.

"You definitely think about that, and I don't want to say do the same things, but do what works for you. And I think the way I play the game kind of helps too, it's not like I'm running guys over all the time or getting run over. Knock on wood, I'll probably get blown up tomorrow or something now. I think I should be able to do it for a long time."

Four takeaways: Corey Crawford heating up as Blackhawks extend point streak to four

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Corey Crawford heating up as Blackhawks extend point streak to four

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks fly out of the gates

The Blackhawks couldn't have started any better against the Wild, who were on the second of a back-to-back. It was important for the Blackhawks to take advantage of that and they did.

Jonathan Toews put the Blackhawks on the board 1-0 at 8:26 of the first period after burying a pass from Patrick Kane on the power play and Brandon Saad made it 2-0 with 2:31 left after scoring on a breakaway.

"It’s nice to get a lead and I think we’ve found good ways to give up one- or two-goal leads in second periods this season, and that usually feels like a kick to the midsection," Toews said. "We did a good job of limiting the bleeding in that second period and making sure we came back hard in the third and not giving up too much."

2. Special teams battle

This will be a work in progress all season long, but the Blackhawks are slowly making strides in the special teams department. Often times it could be the deciding factor of a game, whether it's a power play goal or a penalty kill at a key time.

The Blackhawks got two power-play opportunities in the first period and capitalized on the first one. They were able to create chances and have sustained offensive zone time, registering a combined five shots on goal.

"We want to dictate when we're going to try and make our plays," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought we were aggressive at the right time, we were patient at other times. We had some interchange, put them in some mismatch situations and then it's up to us to execute and I thought the guys did a great job in all three. ... We're getting better, we just got to be patient with it. It's not going to be perfect, but I see progression."

But the Wild also had their fair share of opportunities and got on the board when Zach Parise buried a Mikko Koivu pass on the power play to cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 at 7:56 of the second period, which looked similar to the Blackhawks' goal.

Most importantly, the Blackhawks killed off Brent Seabrook's penalty with 5:09 remaining in regulation.

"It was tough," Colliton said. "I thought we played quite a solid third and then all of a sudden you've got to go down five minutes to go and they also scored once against us. We did a good job, got us a couple saves, got a couple clears at the right time, so it was big. We needed the two points, obviously, and they got zero."

3. Corey Crawford heating up

The Blackhawks are starting to see the results of their progression, going 2-0-2 in their last four games. And arguably their most important player is, too.

Crawford made a season-high 39 saves in the victory and has stopped 98 of 100 shots in his last three starts for a save percentage of .980. His save percentage was .902 in his first nine starts. Even though there was never a concern about his numbers being down, the Blackhawks are encouraged to see him getting rewarded.

"It's no secret that he's great," Colliton said. "He makes those saves that can keep you in a game or if things are going against you, he holds the fort. We got some old guys, but we got some young guys too, and they need that. They need that security blanket. It's great to see. Obviously he had a great reputation coming in. He's been everything I expected."

4. Eddie Olczyk takes "One More Shift"

On "Hockey Fights Cancer" Night, it was only fitting that the Blackhawks honored one of their own. Before calling the game in the booth, Olczyk hosted a Purple Carpet event in the atrium, honoring fans who are currently battling cancer, have lost a loved one to cancer and those who are in remission and then took the ice for "One More Shift" with the Blackhawks and lined up for the ceremonial puck drop.

Olczyk overcame stage three colon cancer last season and has been an inspiration to many, both on and off the ice.

“I do believe and we do believe as a family that our purpose in life now is to share my story, to help inspire one person that’s either in the battle, going through the battle or helping support somebody,” Olczyk said. “Maybe down the road, somebody will say my biggest impact on our community was off the ice and away from the rink, and you know what, that’s OK.

“There’s nothing like knowing people feel good and that is all a part of going through what I did, getting incredible support and couldn’t have done it by myself. Now it’s my job and my family’s job to inspire people. Even if it’s just for a day or a month. It’s always with you, whether you’re in the battle or you’re outside the chemo or you’re cancer free. That cancer will always be with you. You got to take it head on.”