Last fall, Richard Panik was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ minor league team. This fall he started on the Blackhawks’ top line.
On Saturday he recorded his first career hat trick.
Panik scored three, including the game-winner, and Scott Darling stopped 33 of 36 shots as the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 on Saturday night. The Blackhawks picked up their first victory of the season and Panik recorded his first hat trick in – well, he’s not sure exactly when but it’s been a while.
“I don’t even remember,” Panik said with a smile. “Maybe in juniors. Yeah, maybe juniors.”
Nick Schmaltz scored the first goal of his NHL career and Brent Seabrook added a power-play goal. This one got closer than the Blackhawks would’ve liked, especially after they had a 3-0 lead midway through the game, but they’ll take the two points.
“I didn’t like how we let them get back in the game. Even at 3-0, they had their turn to get something earlier than that and then chipped away,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Definitely a big play at the end. Nice play by Kaner.”
That play by Patrick Kane led to Panik’s third goal with 1:31 remaining in regulation. Darling was pivotal throughout and kept the Predators from finding the equalizer late.
“Yeah, I felt pretty good today,” Darling said. “Obviously some things I need to work on, it wasn’t all perfect. But nice to get the first one out of the way, get the jitters out and get a win.”
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The Blackhawks, overall, still had their jittery moments. They allowed another power-play goal – that’s seven through three games. As pointed out earlier, a seemingly comfortable lead nearly disappeared twice; Craig Smith’s power-play goal made it 3-2 late in the second period and Viktor Arvidsson’s goal pulled the Predators to within one again, 4-3, midway through the third.
As for Panik, he got his goals the way Quenneville always preaches: by getting to the net. His first was a behind-the-back backhand that gave the Blackhawks that 3-0 lead midway through the first period. His second was his finishing a Marian Hossa drive. At first it looked like it was Hossa, who would’ve had his 500th career goal.
“I wasn’t sure,” Quenneville said afterward on who scored that goal. “Pans had the bigger celebration, so…”
The Blackhawks’ first victory wasn’t a dominating one by any means. They got there thanks to great goaltending, and from a guy who’s gone from the minors in Toronto to the top line in Chicago.
“Those first two games, I got an opportunity on the top line and we lost those two games. So we weren’t happy about it,” Panik said. “But tonight we won, so we are pretty happy.”