Kris Versteeg makes big impact in Kings win over Blackhawks


Kris Versteeg makes big impact in Kings win over Blackhawks

Kris Versteeg had zero points in his first five games since being acquired by the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 28, the night before the trade deadline.

That changed on Monday, in a significant way.

The former Blackhawks forward received a video board tribute in his return to Chicago earlier in the season with Carolina, but this time, he decided to welcome himself back by potting the game's first goal 3:17 into the first period.

"Yeah, it felt good to get the monkey off the back," Versteeg said following the Kings' 5-0 win over the Blackhawks. "Obviously you have to bring your best when you play top teams in the league, and we played really well tonight."

[RELATED: Blackhawks go silent in shutout loss to Kings]

Scoring his first goal as a member of the Kings, Versteeg let out a big fist-bump that must have felt nice against his former club. 

"It wasn't actually that big, I don't think," Versteeg joked, downplaying the fact that it came against Chicago. "When you don't score 50, sometimes you get excited when you score goals."

He then admitted: "When you play your old team, you always want to play hard. It gives that little added boost. But at the end of the day, a goal feels good no matter who it's against."

But his impact didn't stop there. Just 18 seconds left, on the very same shift, Versteeg registered the primary assist on Milan Lucic's snipe past Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, helping the Kings build a 2-0 lead where they never looked back.

"The second goal was really big," Versteeg said. "I know playing for the Hawks, once they get down, they get pretty loose and they can make a lot of plays when loose and playing free. They had a lot of the puck and a lot of the play after that, but we stuck to it and played our game and ended up winning."

"That was big for us," echoed Norris Trophy favorite Drew Doughty, who logged a game-high 26:06 minutes of ice time. "I think they got two on one shift, too, which is a pretty big deflator for their team. From that point on, you kind of could feel that we were going to win that game. They were getting opportunities and stuff like that, and they didn't give up, but we felt like we were in control from that point."

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Despite being held pointless in his previous five games, his new teammates know what Versteeg, who's now been traded six times in his NHL career, brings to the table on and off the ice.

He already worked his way to the top line with Anze Kopitar and Versteeg, and it paid off on the first shift of the game.

"He's a guy, you can play him on any line," said Jonathan Quick, who set a new record for most shutouts by an American-born NHL goaltender with 41, following a 32-save performance. "He's very versatile and he knows how to win. He's played in a lot of big games and he's had success in those games, so he's a great addition to the team. You're happy to see him get one, especially against one of his old teams."

Vincent Lecavalier, who was also acquired midseason, Dustin Brown and Tyler Toffoli added the final three goals, which essentially slammed the door shut on the night.

The sold-out United Center crowd of 22,170 had seen enough after the fourth goal just past the midway mark of the third period, darting for the exits to beat traffic.

It's now the Blackhawks' third consecutive loss — their second in a row allowing five goals in a game — all against Western Conference contenders.

But that certainly doesn't mean opponents will sleep on the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

"Nobody's overlooking them," Quick said. "That's not even a question."

"They're a great team. They're the best team in the league," he added. "Them and Washington. We're familiar with them, they're familiar with us, we've played a lot against each other the past few years. It's a game where you don't need to (watch) much video or anything like that; you know what you're going to get. I think we caught a couple bounces, they hit a couple posts that could've gone the other way. We're fortunate to get a couple points."

The Kings and Blackhawks have combined to win the last four Stanley Cups, and clashed in the Conference Final in two of those years, both of whom got past the other en route to a Stanley Cup victory. It's always entertaining for both the fans and players when these two heavyweights meet.

And nobody will be surprised if there's a rubber match this spring. 

In fact, it's welcomed.

"No. Hopefully we do," Doughty said when asked if he'd be surprised to see the Blackhawks again down the road. "If you ask me, I could see them coming out of their side all the way to the conference final and obviously that's what we'd want to do, too. There's a good chance we could meet up at some point, and if we do, it would be a fun series."

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks


Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a Marcus Kruger redirection goal. The next one was the dagger, a beautiful give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade


Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

COLUMBUS — The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."