If you've watched the Blackhawks for any amount of time the last few seasons you've recognized their love of two things: the four-line rotation (well, that's any team, really) and their love of versatile players who they can plug in various spots. On Wednesday night the latter part of that equation loomed large.
Patrick Kane scored his second hat trick in his last three games and Scott Darling stopped 36 of 37 shots as the Blackhawks beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks have now won 10 of their last 11 games and are three points behind the Minnesota Wild, who were idle tonight.
Richard Panik scored his 17th goal of the season on a memorable move around Evgeni Malkin. Kane completed his hat trick with a no-look backhand into the empty net with 41 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Blackhawks suffered another injury, however, as Artem Anisimov left early in the second period with a lower-body injury. Coach Joel Quenneville said Anisimov could miss some time – "a little bit of time, not a lot of time." Asked if that meant Anisimov was out a week or two, Quenneville said he and the team would know more on Thursday.
And that brings us back to the versatility, which in particular served Nick Schmaltz very well on Wednesday. When Anisimov left Schmaltz took over the second-line center spot and didn't miss a beat. From his takeaway that led to Kane's first goal to his pass that led to Kane's second, Schmaltz took advantage of the opportunity. Quenneville said Schmaltz could end up in that spot if Anisimov misses some time.
"He gives us some options but tonight fitting in that hole where Arty was, we didn't know it was going to be like that but I like how he took advantage of it," Quenneville said.
Meanwhile, Darling, who played to give an ailing Corey Crawford another day to rest, was outstanding. The Blackhawks scored twice in the third but were outshot 13-6, and Darling denied the Penguins on every chance. Only Scott Wilson's slick, lifted backhand eluded him; officials needed replay to show Wilson, indeed, scored. Darling's biggest stop came on Matt Cullen, who was denied after taking a great pass from Sidney Crosby.
"It was a great play by them. It's more reflexes and just kind of being a goalie," Darling said. "[You're] just trying to get in the right position as quickly as you can. Lucky I got a glove on it."
Very little about the Blackhawks' game lately has been about luck. They're back to playing their team game, back to getting that great rotation, back to utilizing guys in must-need situations.
"We were trying all season to figure out the lines and manage it. Now we've found it," Panik said. "It's been really good for the team."