Blackhawks

LIVE: Hawks lead Maple Leafs, 5-2 in 3rd period

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LIVE: Hawks lead Maple Leafs, 5-2 in 3rd period

Saturday, March 5, 2011
11:18 a.m.

Associated Press

Some strong play of late has propelled the Chicago Blackhawks back into playoff position.

Also playing well, the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to follow a similar path.

The visiting Blackhawks look to extend their season-high winning streak to eight games Saturday night and continue their recent success against the Maple Leafs, who have not lost in regulation in three weeks.

Two weeks ago, Chicago (36-23-6) had lost seven of 10 and was on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. Faced with the possibility of missing the postseason less than a year after winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks have averaged 4.3 goals during their run to move up to fourth in the West.

Captain Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are two big reasons why the Blackhawks are in position to win eight in a row for the first time since Nov. 9-25, 2009.

Toews, who scored 55 seconds into Friday's 5-2 win over Carolina, has goals in four consecutive games, scoring six times with two assists over that span. He has seven goals and seven assists during an eight-game point streak.

Hossa, who added two assists Friday, has five goals with four assists in six consecutive games.

Chicago avoided another third-period collapse by scoring three goals in the final 20 minutes against the Hurricanes. The Blackhawks have been outscored 74-65 in the third period this season.

"It was nice to finish strong," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "It was something we've been talking about for a while, keeping the foot on the gas."

Beginning a four-game trip against East opponents, the Blackhawks look for their sixth consecutive win over Toronto. Chicago is 7-3-0 against the East this season.

Keith had a goal with an assist in Chicago's 3-2 home win over the Maple Leafs on Nov. 13, 2009.

Though the Blackhawks have not lost to Toronto since Feb. 12, 2003, the Maple Leafs (29-27-9) are 6-0-3 since losing 3-0 at Montreal on Feb. 12.

"All these games are desperate right now and were looking for points everywhere we can," forward Darryl Boyce said.

Nikolai Kulemin and Dion Phaneuf each had a goal with an assist as Toronto rallied for a 3-2 win at East-leading Philadelphia on Thursday in its ninth straight one-goal contest.

The Maple Leafs, 10-2-4 since the All-Star break, are 10th in the East and four points behind the Hurricanes for the eighth and final playoff spot.

"I think it's a little surprising to see them play this well down the stretch here," said former Maple Leaf and current Flyers forward Kris Versteeg, who played with Chicago last season. "Here's a team that really not much was expected from them. They've really showed the league that they're not going anywhere, and that they're forcing other teams to respect them."

Though Toronto has averaged 2.9 goals its last nine games, it's only given up 2.6 during that span. Rookie James Reimer has thrived during that stretch, going 6-0-2 with a 2.13 goals-against average.

"He's just keeping us in every game and we are trying to reward him the best we can," Boyce said.

Phil Kessel, who has eight goals with seven assists his last 12 games, scored twice in last season's loss to Chicago.

Toronto has been outscored 15-9 while losing three straight at home to the Blackhawks since a 4-1 win on Dec. 1, 2001.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

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AP

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

The Blackhawks are always active in the overseas market. Over the last few years, Dominik Kahun, David Kampf, Michal Kempny, Jacob Nilsson, Artemi Panarin and Jan Rutta are among the notable Chicago signings that have come from there. 

And they continue to be an attractive destination.

The Blackhawks have reportedly expressed interest in 24-year-old Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev and 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin, and the feeling is mutual.

Of the 30 NHL teams that have checked in on Mikheyev, TSN's Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday that the Blackhawks are among the finalists — although it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs could be the frontrunners. Mikheyev, who's 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, racked up 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 62 games this season for Avangard Omsk of the KHL, and tallied 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 postseason contests. His decision is expected to come this weekend.

Wedin has also reportedly narrowed his list, which includes the Blackhawks. He had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League, where he compiled 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 32 regular-season games and nine points (two goals, seven assists) in seven playoff contests with Timra IK.

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger is expected to make his decision either before or after the 2019 IIHF World Championship, depending on whether or not he plays for Sweden.

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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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