Marian Hossa proves he's still got it, nets game-winner for Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets

Marian Hossa proves he's still got it, nets game-winner for Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets

Marian Hossa's struggles last season were evident. Sure, the trademark defense was still there, but the offense wasn't. To some teammates, he wasn't losing anything, he was just snake bit. Regardless, one wondered how much Hossa had left and if he could rebound this season.

Apparently, he has plenty left.

Hossa's 26th goal of the season proved to be the game winner, and Corey Crawford stopped 32 of 33 shots in the victory as the Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets by a 3-1 score on Friday. The Blackhawks have won two in a row and re-established a nine-point lead over the Minnesota Wild.

It was another milestone-heavy night for the Blackhawks. The team won its 50th game of the season, Patrick Kane recorded three assists to hit 750 career points, and Jonathan Toews collected his 350th career assist.

Artemi Panarin scored two goals; he has four goals in his last three games.

For Hossa, a long offseason of rest helped. So does playing with a good crop of rookies, who keep Hossa motivated.

"The young guys just playing around me keep me going," Hossa said. "It's a fast game out there, and I try to skate as hard as they do. And it's working so far."

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Much like they did against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Blackhawks got an early lead in this one. They just did it a lot quicker. Panarin gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 edge just 32 seconds into the game — and four seconds into their first power play. Nick Foligno tied it with a 4-on-4 goal later in the period. But just 22 seconds after that Hossa, taking the pass from Kane, put the Blackhawks back up, 2-1.

Panarin added his second goal of the night, an empty-net effort, with 43.9 seconds remaining in regulation.

Crawford did the rest. Coming off a tough Florida game — though he shouldn't shoulder the blame for all of that — Crawford's allowed two goals in his last two starts. He was especially good in the third period, when the Blue Jackets outshot the Blackhawks 14-7.

"He was excellent tonight, very sharp, very quick," coach Joel Quenneville said of Crawford. "They go to the net hard, lot of traffic, lot of bodies. He was finding the puck and was square to the next shot as well. He looked very alert around the net tonight."

The Blackhawks are back to playing like a confident group. The same goes for Hossa. Maybe he was snake-bit last season. Whatever the problem, it's definitely not affecting him anymore.

"It definitely gives you more confidence," Hossa said of his improved numbers. "I knew I had it in me after last year. To not be able to put the puck in (last year) even though I had as many chances, maybe, as this year, but it didn't go in. It's nice to prove to myself, that you still got it."

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

USA Today

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

For 33 years, Mike Gapski has been the glue of the Blackhawks' support staff. He's the longest-tenured head athletic trainer in the NHL, landing the job in 1987 shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

It's been a dream come true for Gapski to work in his hometown all these years, and on Thursday he is set to be involved in his 2,500th regular season game with the Blackhawks.

Current and former players took the time to congratulate and give thanks to Gapski, and share what he's meant to the Blackhawks:

Kirby Dach:

"It's crazy, you have the same guys in junior, but it's a little bit different level here. These guys take care of us, it's unbelievable the job they do. It's a tremendous accomplishment for Gapper. Couldn't be happier for him. I've only known him for a little bit and he's a really nice guy and helps everybody out and is very kind and caring. And that's what you need in a trainer, somebody who's going to have your best interest at heart. It's good for our group and obviously he's been through a lot with some of the older guys in here. I'm sure it'll be a fun celebration for those guys and for our group as well."

Alex DeBrincat:

"He's great. He's always helping. You try to stay out of the training room, but it's always nice to go in there and talk with those guys. Gapper specifically is a great guy to have around, always fun and lighthearted around there. He obviously knows his stuff, he's been in the league a long time, he's seen a lot of injuries. He's pretty quick to help us out and know what we need to get better."

Steve Konroyd:

"Michael Gapski, congratulations on 2,500 games. You're one of the first guys I ever met when I got traded to the Chicago Blackhawks way back in 1988. You're knowledgeable, you're professional and above all else you're a great guy. I was very proud to have you as a trainer and I think the Blackhawks are very lucky to have you over all these years."

Jamal Mayers:

"Just want to say congratulations to Mike Gapski on 2,500 games. Wow. That's a lot of games, Gapper, congratulations. I know all the players that have ever had you are thankful to have you around. You're a professional, you do things the right way, you really care about the players, it comes across every single day. And thanks for keeping me together when I was 37 and 38 at the end of my career."

Eddie Olczyk:

"Hey Frank, congratulations — 2,500 games standing behind the bench for our Chicago Blackhawks. A tremendous honor, congratulations to you and your family. One thing I love about you, Frank, is you're the same guy today as you were back in the late '90s when we were working together when I was still a player. So congratulations and here's to another 2,500 more."

Patrick Sharp:

"Gapper, Gappity, Frank, Mike Gapski, thank you so much for all the years that you've put in to the Chicago Blackhawks training staff. Countless players have come through the organization, nobody's got a bad thing to say about you. 2,500 games, that's no joke. How about we do another 2,500? Congratulations on all your success. I came to Chicago in 2005 as a young man, spent my whole adult life with having you taking care of me at the rink, so thank you for everything over the years. All the best to you and your family, Frank."

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Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Kris Versteeg recently retired and now the Blackhawks are honoring him with the team’s “One More Shift.”

Versteeg began the season with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, but retired in November after playing six games for the IceHogs this season.

The 33-year-old wrote an emotional letter to the Blackhawks organization after requesting his contract with Rockford be terminated.

Versteeg will be honored before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He will join the team on the ice for the national anthem and highlights of his career will be featured in the United Center.

Versteeg won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, in 2010 and 2015. He is part of the Blackhawks celebrating the 10-year anniversary of that 2010 Cup win. Brian Campbell was given the same treatment on Nov. 21.

The first 10,000 fans into the UC can get replicas of the 2010 ring.

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