Quick hits: Blackhawks start strong in win over Blues

Quick hits: Blackhawks start strong in win over Blues

No Niklas Hjalmarsson, no Corey Crawford, no problem for the Blackhawks.

Certainly you want those two back as soon as possible. But while Hjalmarsson nurses an upper-body injury and Crawford deals with an illness, the Blackhawks just keep going. Credit their all-around game, which has continually gotten better in recent weeks and was there for the most part again in their 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night.

The Blackhawks did what they wanted to during the Minnesota Wild’s bye: they won both games and just trail the Wild by a point now. So onward we go. Will anything happen by Wednesday afternoon, when the trade deadline hits? We’ll see but we’re also going to caution messing up what’s becoming more of a good thing by the day.

Anyway, onto the notables.

What Worked: The Blackhawks’ start. For the first half (or so) of the season you wondered why the first 20 minutes were so difficult. Like a few other glitches to their game, they’ve gotten past this one, too. The Blackhawks looked sharp at the start on Sunday night, with the top-line players (Nick Schmaltz pass and Jonathan Toews finish) once again giving them the 1-0 a few minutes into the game.

What Didn’t Work: The second period. A few things went wrong during the next 20 minutes. The Blackhawks’ possession dipped, their penalty kill failed and their power play had a quiet second chance. Perhaps some of that was the Blues waking out of their first-period slumber – they’re coming off a bye, and we’ve documented what happens off of those. But the Blackhawks did not follow up their great start accordingly.

Star of the game: Tempting to give it to Scott Darling, given the fact that he found out this morning he’d be getting the start after all in Corey Crawford’s illness absence. But Patrick Kane had a tremendous evening, too, from the power-play goal to the secondary assist on Artem Anisimov’s goal to playing extra minutes down the stretch. Can we call it a draw?

He Said It: “It’s certainly been fun to watch Schmatzy, particularly the last three games where he’s gone to a different level. And Hartsy’s [Ryan Hartman’s] been pretty good all year. Their development is important for our team success right now. We’ll need these guys right on through. We’ll still need some young guys as we’re going into it as well. The lineup on Wednesday, who knows? We’ll talk about it over the next couple of days and we’ll see what happens. Tough to say.” Coach Joel Quenneville on if the team will look any different following Wednesday’s trade deadline.

By the Numbers:

500 – Career points for Duncan Keith, who hit the milestone with his secondary assist on Patrick Kane’s power-play goal.

13 – points (five goals, eight assists) for Jonathan Toews during his current six-game point streak.

22 – Goals for Artem Anisimov, which ties a season high for him previously set in 2013-14 with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

6 – Consecutive games in which Richard Panik has had at least one point, a career high. He has four goals and five assists in that stretch.

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in


Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

The youth movement is underway in Chicago and it's happening quicker than expected.

Adam Boqvist played in his 10th NHL game of the season on Sunday, officially triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. That means he will become a restricted free agent at end of the 2021-22 season. If he appeared in nine games or fewer, his contract wouldn't have kicked in until next season, which would've bought the Blackhawks an extra year of Boqvist playing at a cap hit of $894,167.

"Maybe that was a discussion very early on but as far as coach perspective, we like him," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he and GM Stan Bowman had conversations about burning Boqvist's first year. "I think he's played well and it's an opportunity with some injuries to give him some ice time. He's handled it well so far."

Boqvist is the second rookie on the Blackhawks this season to burn their first year, joining No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach. Whether the decisions were dictated by circumstances or not, the Blackhawks have seen enough of both of them to feel they can have an impact on the team in the short term without hindering their developments in the long term.

The number to watch now is 40. Like Dach, if Boqvist appears in 40 or more games this season, it will count as a full season and bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency. Any player that's accrued seven full seasons or is at least 27 years old as of June 30 of that respective year can become an unrestricted free agent.

Boqvist appeared in six games for the Blackhawks during the month of November before getting reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14 when Connor Murphy was ready to return from his groin injury.

But with Calvin de Haan (shoulder) expected to be out long term and Duncan Keith still out with a groin injury, the Blackhawks called up Boqvist for insurance and because they lacked defensemen with offensive upside. It appears he will remain with the big club for the time being and it serves as a chance for their No. 8 overall pick in 2018 to prove he can handle NHL minutes on a consistent basis during a desperate time for the Blackhawks.

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Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild


Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild

As things seemingly spiraled out of control for the Blackhawks, who had lost four straight games - being outscored 14-6 in their past three - and going 3-8-2 in their past 13, they needed their top player to step up. Step up is exactly what Patrick Kane did Sunday night against a hot Minnesota Wild team. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ and 2013 Conn Smythe trophy winner scored two goals early in the first period before throwing the puck into the Wild's empy net for the 5-3 final score with a little over one minute remaining in regulation.

"It was nice to get one," Kane said of snagging his sixth career regular season hat trick. "You get two early on, you think, 'Maybe I have a chance at one.' Obviously it came a little bit later in the game, but huge fourth goal for us (from Brandon Saad) and I was able to finish it off with an empty net. Obviously that's a big win for us."

Kane made a wraparound attempt at 7:42 of the first period and the Minnesota Wild's Kaapo Kahkonen seemingly denied him with his left pad. However, the United Center crowd went crazy when they saw the replay of the attempt on the jumbotron. After a video review officials determined the puck completely crossed the goal line and the Hawks were up 1-0.

Kane recorded his second goal of the game, putting the Hawks up 2-0 at 11:33 of the first, scoring from the slot off a give-and-go with Jonathan Toews on Chicago's first power play of the game. 

"Showtime" scored into the Wild's empty net at 18:57 of the third period to complete the hat trick. It was his 18th goal of the season.

"He’s such a well-rounded player," Robin Lehner said of Kane. "I think as a goalie, going in practice every day against him, he has such patience with the puck and he’s so accurate with his shot. 

"He doesn’t shoot in the conventional — just go high or try to go bar and in. He goes between the arms, between the legs, over the pads, you know it’s very hard as a goalie to get a read. 

"He waits you out and then it’s in. He had a hell of a game today. He’s one of our leaders and he stepped up and helped turn this around for us."

Kane felt he's been in a rut and knows when he's able to produce, it can give the team a lift.

"I don't think I've been playing as well the past 10 games or so," he said. "Want to start playing better for the team. If I play better it's obviously going to bring more to the group and (there's) a better chance for us to win. That's something we're all trying to do in here is take pride and ownership."

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