Coach Joel Quenneville has sensed a difference with the Blackhawks this past weekend.
They had plenty of energy heading into Saturday’s game in St. Louis. They have a healthy roster for the first time all season, giving Quenneville more options. It’s just two days, but the Blackhawks have felt more like a complete team. And for the second consecutive night, they played like one.
Patrick Kane scored his 13th goal of the season, and Marian Hossa scored his first in nearly a month as the Blackhawks beat the Calgary Flames, 4-1, on Sunday night. It was the second consecutive victory and third in the last four games for the Blackhawks, who scored four unanswered goals to take this one.
Artemi Panarin scored his sixth of the season, as did Jonathan Toews, who got an empty-net goal with 37.4 seconds remaining in regulation. Scott Darling stopped 25 of 26 shots for the victory.
“I thought that was probably our best two games, back-to-back, and the consistency we always look for was right there,” Quenneville said. “We had more of a four-line rotation going where we had some predictability, timely goals, some nice pays. Across the board, everyone contributed.”
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Again, it helps to have defensemen Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival back in the mix. But the Blackhawks still were looking to get their all-around game going, and they’ve done that these past two games.
Nevertheless, they fell behind first in this one. David Jones put the Flames up, 1-0, just 3:41 into the second period. But about three minutes later, the Blackhawks went on a scoring barrage, recording three goals in 1:55. Kane was first, tying the game with a backhander to extend his point streak to 13 consecutive games, one game shy of his career high. It was Kane’s seventh goal in as many games.
“That whole line compliments each other well. Panarin and (Kane) have great chemistry, and don’t forget (Artem) Anisimov. He’s creating space and winning those loose puck battles,” Keith said. “It’s a full-line effort, and Kaner’s leading the way, for sure.”
Sixty-three seconds later Hossa scored his first since Oct. 17, a knuckleballer that gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead. Panarin scored 52 seconds later for a 3-1 lead.
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Darling did the rest. After seeing just four Flames shots in the first period, Darling stopped 21 of 22 in the second and third.
“The last start I had I didn’t play well. When you’re dwelling on it for two weeks, you’re really excited to get back into the net and make the most of the opportunity,” said Darling, whose last start was in Minnesota on Oct. 30. “It was a long two weeks working hard with (goaltending coach Jimmy Waite), and I’m happy with the way it turned out tonight.”
The Blackhawks are happy with the way the last two nights have turned out. There’s still a long way to go, and the Circus Trip, their six-game jaunt through Western Canada and California, looms. But they’re starting to feel more like a team now, and it’s leading to results.
“We put ourselves in a good spot,” Quenneville said. “That Jersey game (on Thursday) still bothers me a little bit, but we did so many good things in that game it was, ‘OK, let’s not get frustrated,’ knowing we’re looking like we’re outside the playoffs and it’s still early in the year. We did put ourselves in a tough spot but had a great response here. We have to play well on this road trip and prove we can play the same way.”