Blackhawks

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.

What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...

What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.

[RELATED: Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes]

Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.

He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup. 

By the Numbers: 

6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.

342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.

35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.

1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.

Golden Knights All-Star Max Pacioretty expected to return for Game 1 vs. Blackhawks

Golden Knights All-Star Max Pacioretty expected to return for Game 1 vs. Blackhawks

The Vegas Golden Knights are expected to get a major boost going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After suffering a minor injury during Phase 3 of formal training camps that forced him to miss all three round-robin games, Max Pacioretty is "in the bubble" of Edmonton and should be ready to go for Game 1 of the first round against the Blackhawks. He completed his mandatory quarantine and will practice with the team on Monday, head coach Pete DeBoer said.

A six-time 30-goal scorer, Pacioretty led the Golden Knights in the regular season with 32 goals and 66 points. He participated in the NHL All-Star Game in January for the first time in his career and was the lone representative for Vegas.

Expect Pacioretty to play on the first line with Mark Stone. When the two of them were on the ice together at even strength this season, the Golden Knights controlled 60.6 percent of the shot attempts, 64.8 percent of the scoring chances and had a goal differential of plus-18, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The Golden Knights were already a deep team. And they just got even more dangerous with the return of Pacioretty.

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Why Blackhawks are in for 'big test' against Vegas in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Why Blackhawks are in for 'big test' against Vegas in Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Blackhawks had their work cut out for them in the qualifying round against the Edmonton Oilers. It was all about containing the two best players in the world in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, both of whom weren’t as much of a factor at even strength as we’re used to seeing in a competitive series that lasted four games.

But the Blackhawks are about to face a different beast in the Vegas Golden Knights, who locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The two teams will square off in a best-of-seven series in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blackhawks watched the Golden Knights’ round-robin finale on Saturday from their suite at Rogers Place, getting an up-close look at their next opponent. And they know they're in for a challenge.

"They're a good team," Kirby Dach said. "They're deep up front, they have good defense, obviously great goaltending. They play the game fast, they're smart, they're a disciplined team. We just know we're going to have to keep elevating our game to compete and hopefully win the series, but we have a long way to go. It's going to be a battle. We've got to be ready each and every night because we know they're going to bring it."

The Golden Knights went 3-0 in round-robin play, beating the No. 1 offensive team (Colorado) and No. 1 defensive team (Dallas) in the West, and defending Stanley Cup champions (St. Louis) by a combined score of 15-10. And they didn't even look their best.

But when they are at their best, the Golden Knights are seemingly unbeatable.

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The Golden Knights ranked No. 1 this season in even-strength shot attempts from the slot for (25.4 per game) and even-strength shots on net from the slot (15.1), according to Sportlogiq. They also ranked No. 1 in even-strength shot attempts from the slot against (18.8).

The Golden Knights are just as good of an offensive team than they are defensively at even strength and can come at you in waves.

"They seem to use all four lines a little more than Edmonton did," Connor Murphy said. "Edmonton had their top two or three forwards that carried a lot of the offense and played a lot of minutes and seemed to have a lot of possession in their hands. It'll be definitely different defending against that team game and that simple pressure and speed that they have. They play that playoff-style game as well. That'll be something that we look at these next couple days, and either adjust or roll with."

To cap it off, the Golden Knights have arguably the best goaltending duo in the playoffs with Marc-Andre Fleury and former Chicago netminder Robin Lehner. It remains unclear who will start Game 1, but there might not be a wrong choice.

Put it all together and you have a Golden Knights team that doesn't have many holes on their roster.

"They’re an excellent team," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Very good defensively, stingy defensively, but they’ve created a lot going the other way, too. We know we’re going to have to raise our level. It’s going to be a big challenge, but we’re excited about it."