Blackhawks

Vladimir Tarasenko has arrived as an NHL superstar

Vladimir Tarasenko has arrived as an NHL superstar

It sometimes takes a breakout in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the hockey world to realize how good a player actually is, and it's happening right now for Vladimir Tarasenko.

After scoring two more goals in the St. Louis Blues' 4-3 victory over the Blackhawks in Game 4 on Tuesday night, Tarasenko now has 13 goals in 17 career playoff games, which is the best goals-per-game average in NHL history among players who have played in at least 15 postseason tilts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

He also has eight goals in nine games against the Blackhawks this year, counting the regular season, two of which were overtime winners during 3-on-3 play at the United Center.

"He's a unique player," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Tarasenko after Tuesday's win. "It's been a long time since you see players score from distance. He's a very unique player that way because he gets it away so fast and it's so heavy and so accurate. He knows well ahead of time where it's going. It's a very, very unique player. You wish there was more of those guys in the league."

Tarasenko provided a glimpse of his superstar potential at the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign when he was making an early case for the Hart Trophy. The 24-year-old Russian winger compiled 39 points (22 goals, 17 assists) in the first 38 games of the regular season, a notch above a point-per-game pace.

But when the calendar flipped to 2016, he cooled off, scoring 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists) in 42 games the rest of the way, respectively. Despite that, he still was one of only four players that finished the year with 40 goals, the first time he's reached that mark in his young NHL career.

Perhaps his minor dip in production — if you want to call it that — down the stretch was the conservation of energy for the games that really count, because he's certainly a large reason why the Blues have taken a commanding 3-1 series lead in their first-round series against the Blackhawks.

"He’s a great player when he gets his shot through," Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said. "He’s a very dangerous guy. We gotta play tight on him, play strong on him. Make sure he doesn’t wind up and create space for himself."

Said Duncan Keith: "He’s got a great shot, quick release and he doesn’t need much time or space. Obviously, a guy that we’ve got to be aware of when we’re out on the ice with him. On the power play, try to get in his lane and he’s good at getting them through. It’s just got to be a team effort."

Ironically, Tarasenko was drafted by the Blues with the No. 16 overall pick in 2010 via a trade from the Ottawa Senators, who sacrificed the pick to acquire current Blackhawks defenseman David Rundblad.

The payoff was surely worth it.

Tarasenko is a lethal weapon on the power play, but he's also making his presence felt during five-on-five play as well.

The Blues have controlled 57.8 percent of the shot attempts when he's on the ice during even-strength play through the first four games of the playoffs, according to war-on-ice.com, a significant increase from his 53.2 percentage in the regular season, which is an already solid number.

If the Blackhawks have any shot at overcoming a 3-1 series deficit, stopping No. 91 is up there on the priority list.

"His shot's great," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We gotta tighten it up when he's out there, deny him the puck or get in the lane, better sticks. I think he's a very dangerous player and the shot's definitely been on. We're having some looks that maybe be better than that but his shot's finding a way, so we have to be better."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

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

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Return of the Crow

The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."

Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.

"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.

"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."

2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks

The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.

3. Overtime streak ends

The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.

Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.

4. Familiar faces, new places

Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.

It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.

"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."

As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.

Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.

Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.