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Tanner Kero's scoring touch could help Blackhawks

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Tanner Kero's scoring touch could help Blackhawks

Tanner Kero’s professional hockey career couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start.

The Michigan Tech alum has shown his scoring touch, recording a goal in five of his first six games with the Rockford IceHogs. Now Kero will see if that continues with the big club, which could definitely use more offense.

Kero was recalled by the Blackhawks on Tuesday and is expected to make his NHL debut on Thursday night, when the Blackhawks face the Winnipeg Jets. He was one of two Blackhawks call-ups these last two days; defenseman Erik Gustafsson was recalled on Wednesday morning, and while he practiced with the team it doesn’t look like he will play on Thursday.

The 23-year-old Kero centered the third line at Wednesday’s practice; Teuvo Teravainen was on the left and Ryan Garbutt on the right. Kero’s excited for the opportunity and hopes the puck luck follows him.

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“We’re just getting the bounces,” Kero said of the Rockford success. “[We’re] focusing a little bit more on the defensive zone play, being good defensively and penalty kill and it seems like that’s when the offense starts to come.”

Winning hasn’t been a problem lately for the Blackhawks; despite missing Duncan Keith, they’ve won their last four games. Scoring, however, has been an issue. Both of the Blackhawks’ last two victories have been 1-0 overtime decisions, with Jonathan Toews scoring both winners. So perhaps Kero can help spark things.

“It’s good for him. He gets rewarded getting called up. When you win you usually don’t make many changes but it’s a good opportunity based on how well he played,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We liked him in camp; we thought he played well in the exhibition games. We like him in the middle, like his quickness, but got off to a positive start, gets rewarded and look forward to seeing how he does.”

Kero hopes he can play his part.

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“They’re still finding a way to win which is a good thing. So hopefully I can get a chance to help them out and they’re really good defensively right now,” Kero said. “I was pretty surprised [at the call-up] and I was very excited for the opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Gustafsson partnered with Michal Rozsival during Wednesday’s practice. Past Kero’s installment on the third line, Quenneville said he’s unlikely to change the lineup for Thursday. Whether or not Gustafsson plays on Friday in Minnesota is unknown right now.

Gustafsson was one of the last defensive prospects in Chicago as training camp came to a close. At the time, Gustafsson said he’d be upset if he didn’t make the Blackhawks’ roster – he didn’t. As it turns out, Gustafsson’s time in Rockford has been a great learning experience.

“I think it helped me a lot,” he said. “The first two or three games down there in Rockford it was a little hard to play. I was just chipping the puck out. I didn’t have the confidence in me. In four or five games I got used to it and got a lot of confidence with the puck and how to play over here.”

BRIEFLY

- Quenneville ran a line drill with a twist on Wednesday: he ran it without a puck. The move was a tribute to Jimmy Roberts, who died of cancer on Friday. Roberts won five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and was an original member of the St. Louis Blues. Roberts later coached for Buffalo and Hartford. “It was great, because I could see him doing it, moving, he had the mittens and the hat he wore,” Quenneville said. “We do the drill every day, but without the pucks is his flavor we added to it. Players get a kick out of that part of it.”

- Rozsival continues to practice with the Blackhawks. The defenseman will be eligible to come off long-term injury reserve in a few days but it still could be a bit until he plays. Asked if Rozsival could play Monday against the Los Angeles Kings, Quenneville said that “may be stretching it.”

- Crawford will start vs. the Jets.

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

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Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!